Lampedusa boat tragedy – update

Briefing Notes, 4 October 2013

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 4 October 2013, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

On Italy's Lampedusa, the efforts this morning are focused on helping survivors following yesterday's tragedy involving a boat carrying Eritreans. A colleague in Lampedusa who we spoke to an hour ago is reporting 155 survivors, all but one of whom is Eritrean (the other is Tunisian). Among these people are 40 unaccompanied boys aged between 14 and 17, and six women. They are exhausted and in a state of shock. Some 111 bodies have been recovered. Others are still missing, presumed trapped inside the boat. Those who died presumably either could not swim or were trapped in the boat's crammed lower deck.

Currently the survivors have been moved to a nearby reception centre, already overcrowded and holding some 1000 people from other recent boat arrivals. UNHCR will be meeting the survivors of this latest accident today, and they will be provided with advice on asylum procedures. We have additional staff arriving from Rome this morning, and a Red Cross psychologist will be providing counselling.

According to the survivors, the boat they were on left from Libya 13 days ago carrying 500 people. Most came aboard at Misrata, but others joined them further west in Zuwara. As they approached the Italian coast early yesterday the boat's engine stopped. They had been hoping to be seen and rescued but, they said, fishing boats passed without helping. They then set fire to clothing and blankets to attract attention. The vessel was finally spotted by a tourist boat which sounded the alert. The Italian coast guard came to their rescue.

High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres commented today: "There is something fundamentally wrong in a world where people in need of protection have to resort to these perilous journeys. This tragedy should serve as a wake-up call. More effective international cooperation is required including a crack-down on traffickers and smugglers while protecting their victims. It shows how important it is for refugees to have legal channels to access territories where they can find protection."

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