United Nations Refugee Agency fears 500 dead in Mediterranean shipwreck

April 20, 2016 6:41 pm

This photo taken on February 17, 2016 shows refugees massed onto an inflatable boat reaching Mytilene, northern Greek island of Lesbos, after crossing the Aegean sea from Turkey. (Photo by AFP)

The refugee agency fears that up to 500 African refugees hoping to reach Italy from eastern Libya may have drowned after their overcrowded boat sank in the Mediterranean Sea.
The Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said in a statement on Wednesday that survivors from Somalia, Sudan, Ethiopia and Egypt who were rescued from a small boat have described seeing a large shipwreck last week that claimed the lives of approximately 500 people.
According to the UNHCR, the survivors are 37 men, three women and a three-year-old child. They say between 100 and 200 people set off from near Tobruk in Libya in what they described as a large, “unseaworthy” vessel. 
The survivors told the UN agency that smugglers brought in more passengers in the middle of sea, which caused the boat to sink.
“The survivors told us that they had been part of a group of between 100 and 200 people who departed last week from a locality near Tobruk in Libya on a 30-meter (100-foot) boat,” the UNHCR said in a statement, adding, “After sailing for several hours, the smugglers in charge of the boat attempted to transfer the passengers to a larger ship carrying hundreds of people in terribly overcrowded conditions.” 
The statement said the larger boat then capsized and sank in the sea.
The survivors are believed to have drifted at sea for up to three days before being taken to Kalamata on the Peloponnese peninsula in southern Greece on April 16. 
Large numbers of refugees from the Middle East and have died over the past months while trying to reach Europe via the sea.
In the most stunning incident in April 2015, at least 740 refugees were feared to have perished after a crammed fishing boat capsized in Libyan waters.
Nearly 175,800 asylum seekers have reached Europe via the Mediterranean so far this year, while over 700 people died in their journey to the continent, according to the latest figures by the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
However, the flow of asylum seekers into Europe has slowed to a trickle in recent weeks after Balkan nations shut their borders in order to prevent the refugee influx into Europe. 

Children cover their faces to protect themselves from dust amid strong winds at a makeshift camp for refugees at the Greek-Macedonian border near the village of Idomeni on April 20, 2016. (AFP photo)

Europe is facing an unprecedented influx of refugees, most of whom are fleeing conflict-ridden zones in and the Middle East, particularly Syria.
On April 12, the German organization, Funke Mediengruppe, reported that 5,835 refugee minors from countries in Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia went missing in the Western European country in 2015, of whom 555 are under the age of 14.
Many blame support by some Western countries for militants operating in the Middle East as the main reason behind the departure of refugees from their home countries.
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