More than 250 migrants are feared dead after a boat carrying some 300 people sank in the early hours of the morning, some 40 miles off the island of Lampedusa, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) says.
Forty seven survivors were rescued at sea by the Italian Coast Guard and three by a local Italian fishing boat.
The vessel, which was laden beyond capacity, had left the Libyan coast with migrants and asylum seekers from Somalia, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Cote d’Ivoire, Chad and Sudan. Some 40 women and five children were on board. Only two women survived the shipwreck.
The survivors were transferred to Lampedusa. They told IOM officers who are providing them with first aid and counselling that the boat sank in rough seas.
They say that when rescuers arrived, the boat was already sinking. Survivors managed to swim towards the approaching Coast Guard ship. Many drowned because they couldn’t swim or were dragged down by desperate fellow passengers.
“The survivors are all in a state of shock,” says IOM’s Simona Moscarelli. “One man told me he had lost his one year old son. One of the two surviving women told me how she had lost her husband.”
The migrants have been transferred to the Loran base, a facility where the Italian authorities are sheltering migrants coming from Libya, in order not to mix them with the migrants arriving from Tunisia.
Since the beginning of February, the island of Lampedusa has been overwhelmed by the arrival of more than 20,000 migrants. The majority of them are Tunisians coming from the Tunisian port of Zarzis, Djerba and Sfax. Over the past ten days, more than 2,000 mostly African migrants and asylum seekers have landed on the island after having sailed from the Libyan coast.
Since 2006, IOM has been providing assistance to migrants in Lampedusa as part of a project funded by the Italian Government. IOM works alongside UNCHR, Save the Children and Italian Red Cross to monitor reception assistance and to provide legal counselling to migrants who have arrived on the island.