Libyan migrant drownings 'must stop'

2011-05-10 13:26
Geneva - Hundreds of migrants fleeing fighting in Libya have drowned, aid agencies said on Tuesday in an appeal to Nato and the European Union to intervene.

"We are very concerned about what is happening in the Mediterranean Sea, where we are learning of many deaths due to capsized boats," Melissa Fleming, spokesperson of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told a news briefing.

"The full death toll unfortunately is unknown to us," she added.

In one of the latest tragedies, migrants who arrived on the Italian island of Lampedusa at the weekend told the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) they had seen a ship carrying between 500 to 600 people sinking near Tripoli late last week.

It is unclear how many of those drowned.

Even before that incident, Fleming said the UNHCR believed that from March 25, at least 800 people fleeing Libya did not make it safely to shore.

Most of the migrants are from sub-Saharan Africa, according to the UN officials.

All vessels in the busy waters must be on the lookout for overcrowded boats and immediately raise the alarm that they are probably in distress, the IOM and UNHCR said.

"We are reiterating our appeal to European states to urgently put in place more reliable and effective mechanisms for rescue at sea on the Mediterranean," Fleming said.

The Italian and Maltese coast guards cannot carry the burden alone, she added.

"We have been in contact with officials at Nato...We have appealed to them at least to be aware that there will be more and more boats in distress," Fleming said.

Read more on:    unhcr  |  libya  |  libya protests  |  north africa  |  uprisings
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