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At least 150 drown as yet another Lampedusa-bound boat capsizes

At least 150 drown as yet another Lampedusa-bound boat capsizes

The Tunisian navy and coast guard have rescued nearly 600 others who left Libya in hope of reaching the Italian island of Lampedusa.
3 June 2011
A floating cemetery of smuggler's boats in Lampedusa. These rickety boats were used to transport people fleeing Libya for Italy. Many do not make it this far.

GENEVA, June 3 (UNHCR) - At least 150 people who fled Libya in hope of reaching the Italian island of Lampedusa have drowned in one of the year's deadliest boat incidents in the Mediterranean.

Survivors told UNHCR staff that the overcrowded boat had set sail last Saturday from the Libyan capital of Tripoli, carrying an estimated 850 people mostly from West Africa, Pakistan and Bangladesh. The crew was recruited on an ad hoc basis and had little or no maritime experience. The boat developed technical problems soon after departure and was lost at sea. By day three, the passengers had run out of food and water.

"The boat ultimately ran aground on Wednesday on a sandbank near the Kerkennah islands, some 300 km north-west of Tripoli," UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards told journalists in Geneva on Friday. "It capsized as desperate passengers rushed to one side, seeking rescue by the Tunisian coast guard and fishing boats that had approached the vessel. Many fell into the water."

Women and children are among the missing. The Tunisian navy and coast guard are continuing with the rescue operation.

"Seven people, including two pregnant women, are receiving intensive care in hospitals in Sfax on mainland Tunisia," said Edwards. "Yesterday, 195 survivors were transferred to the IFRC camp near Ras Adjir close to Tunisia's border with Libya. Today, another 383 are scheduled to be transported to this and other nearby camps where they will receive counselling and other help."

In a separate development, UNHCR has cleaned up a large area that was destroyed last week in Choucha camp, also in the Ras Adjir region. The agency has reorganized the site after consulting with representatives of refugee and migrant communities. One hundred and sixty-eight tents have already been set up and more will follow.

Choucha camp hosts some 2,800 people who fled the conflict in Libya. Another 1,000 people are accommodated in other camps around Ras Adjir.