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UNHCR urges increased search for 53 people missing off Malta

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UNHCR urges increased search for 53 people missing off Malta

23 May 2007

Wednesday 23 May, 2007

GENEVA - The UN refugee agency is very concerned about the fate of 53 people missing on a boat some 80 nautical miles south of Malta and is urging regional authorities to step up their search efforts.

The Armed Forces of Malta spotted the boat from a plane on Monday 21 May, but after sending a patrol boat to the area could not locate the boat and its passengers. Aerial photographs taken by the Maltese authorities showed the boat to be overloaded with the people on board in distress apparently bailing out water with a jerry can.

Boat passengers managed to contact relatives in Italy on Monday by satellite phone who in turn alerted the Italian maritime authorities to the precarious condition of those on board. But on Tuesday, all attempts to contact the passengers by phone failed.

UNHCR is appealing to governments in the region to increase coordinated efforts to trace the boat and provide assistance to those on board, some of whom may be asylum seekers fleeing persecution or armed conflict.