(HN, April 6, 2011) - More than 250 migrants are feared dead after a boat carrying some 300 people sank in the early hours of the morning, some 40 miles off the southern Italian island of Lampedusa.
Forty seven survivors were rescued at sea by the Italian Coast Guard and three by a local Italian fishing boat, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) reported this morning.
The vessel, which was laden beyond capacity, had left the Libyan coast with migrants and asylum seekers from Somalia, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Cote d'Ivoire, Burkina Faso, Eritrea, Chad and Sudan. Some 40 women and five children - including a two-month-old infant - were on board. Only two women survived the shipwreck.
The survivors were transferred to Lampedusa. They told IOM officers who are providing them with first aid and counselling that the boat sank in rough seas.
They say that when rescuers arrived, the boat was already sinking. Survivors managed to swim towards the approaching Coast Guard ship. Many drowned because they couldn't swim or were dragged down by desperate fellow passengers.
The journey reportedly took two days in rough seas.
"The survivors are all in a state of shock," says IOM's Simona Moscarelli. "One man told me he had lost his one year old son. One of the two surviving women told me how she had lost her husband."
The Italian Red Cross said the migrants said they hoped for a new life in Europe; among them are tailors, masons and electricians.
The migrants have been transferred to the Loran base, a facility where the Italian authorities are sheltering migrants coming from Libya, in order not to mix them with the migrants arriving from Tunisia.
Since the beginning of February, the island of Lampedusa has been overwhelmed by the arrival of more than 20,000 migrants. The majority of them are Tunisian coming from the Tunisian port of Zarzis, Djerba and Sfax. Over the past ten days, more than 2,000 mostly African migrants and asylum seekers have landed on the island after having sailed from the Libyan coast.
This latest incident comes as Lampedusa's ability to deal with the large number of refugees "has been stretched to the limit", according to Italian officials.
Since 2006, IOM has been providing assistance to migrants in Lampedusa as part of a project funded by the Italian Government. IOM works alongside UNCHR, Save the Children and Italian Red Cross to monitor reception assistance and to provide legal counseling to migrants who have arrived on the island.
- HUMNEWS staff, IOM