Saturday, June 04, 2011

Bodies of 150 African Refugees Found Off Tunisian Coast

Bodies of 150 African refugees found off Tunisian coast

Migrants had been fleeing unrest in Libya when the boats carrying them into Europe capsized, the UN said, Friday 3 June 2011 13.43 BST

The bodies of 150 African refugees fleeing turmoil in Libya have been recovered off the Tunisian coast after the vessels carrying them illegally to Europe got into difficulty, a UN official said.

"Up to now 150 bodies of refugees have been found off the shores of Kerkennah," Carole Laleve, an official with the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR, told Reuters. She added: "Search operations are continuing."

The boats encountered problems on Tuesday about 12 miles off Kerkennah as they headed for Italy, Tunisia's state news agency TAP reported.

Tunisian coastguards and military rescued 570 people, but many others went into the water when a stampede to get off the small fishing boats – combined with the effect of rough seas – capsized some of the vessels, an official said.

In all, about 250 people have been reported as missing.

In Geneva, UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards said his colleagues in Tunisia had spoken to some of the survivors, who had said the boat they were on had been manned by "an ad-hoc recruited crew with little or no maritime experience".

Maeve O'Donnell, Tunisia operations assistant for the International Organisation for Migration, said a survivor had told her "taking that boat was the worst mistake of his life".

She added: "They were travelling for three to four days when the boat hit something under water.

"They were stuck for several days and were reduced to drinking seawater, and water from the boat's engine."

Elisabeth Byrs, of the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said about 16,000 migrants had arrived in Italy and Malta since the beginning of the Libyan crisis. © Guardian News and Media Limited 2011

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