More Hundreds unfortunate refugees feared dead

February 12, 2015 4:05 am

More than 200 boat people were missing early today after their
overcrowded dinghies sank in the frigid waters of the Mediterranean.
International agencies fear the final death toll could be much higher.
Nine
survivors were rescued by the Italian coastguard and taken to the
island of Lampedusa, out of more than 200 who had left on Saturday
piled into rubber dinghies, the International Organisation for
Migration (IOM) said.

Nine survivors were rescued out of more than 200 who had left Libya on Saturday. Photo / Thinkstock
“Nine were saved after four days at sea.
The other 203 were swallowed by the waves,” Carlotta Sami, a spokeswoman
for the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said on Twitter last
night.
Several thousand people have died trying to make the
perilous crossing from North Africa to Europe across the Mediterranean
in the past year alone.
The IOM said the surviving migrants from
the latest disaster spoke French, so probably came from West African
nations such as Ivory Coast and Senegal.

“Because of the bad conditions, the two dinghies
collapsed and the people fell at sea. Many drowned,” IOM spokesman
Flavio Di Giacomo said.
The organisation’s spokesman in Geneva,
Joel Millman, said information was coming in about other stricken boats,
and warned that the overall toll “could easily triple by the end of the
day”.
Di Giacomo said the latest victims had left from a beach
near Tripoli along with another dinghy also carrying more than 100
migrants plucked from their distressed boat by the Italian coastguard
early on Monday.
Twenty-nine of them died of exposure in horrific conditions in international waters.
Humanitarian organisations said it was an avoidable tragedy.
Their small boat was hopelessly ill-equipped to cope with waves up to eight metres high, gale-force winds and torrential rain.
But
doctors involved in the rescue operation believe more would have
survived if they had been rescued by a large military vessel rather than
the small patrol boats that were sent to their aid.
The UNHCR
has blasted a new European Union-backed rescue patrol as ineffective for
saving lives. The EU took over Mediterranean patrols after Italy phased
out its robust Mare Nostrum operation, launched after 360 migrants died
in 2013.
But the EU’s Triton mission operates only a few
nautical miles off Italy’s coast, whereas Mare Nostrum patrols took
Italian rescue ships up close to Libya’s coast, where most of the
smuggling operations originate.
“The Triton operation doesn’t
have as its principal mandate saving human lives, and thus cannot be the
response that is urgently needed,” Laurens Jolles, the head of the
UNHCR for southern Europe, said in a statement.

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