10 May 2011

Libya: Migrant Survivors Speak of Boat Tragedy off the Coast of Country

press release

Some of the migrants who were brought to safety on the Italian island of Lampedusa at the weekend say they witnessed a boat carrying between 500-600 people foundering off the Libyan coast late last week and bodies being washed ashore.

News of a growing number of boat tragedies in the Mediterranean Sea are coming to light as desperate migrants seek to escape the conflict in Libya.

One Somali woman told IOM staff on Lampedusa that she and her four-month-old baby had been on the boat that sank sometime between Thursday and Friday last week. Having lost her baby, the woman swam to shore after which she boarded another boat heading to Italy.

"She was in a state of shock when she arrived on Lampedusa," said IOM's Daria Storia on the island. "She was clearly very disorientated and agitated when we spoke to her."

Although the migrants also spoke of seeing people swimming to shore, it is not clear how many migrants survived apart from the Somali woman survivor.

Migrants also told IOM that after seeing what had happened to the first boat, many of them who had been waiting on land changed their mind about making the sea journey to Italy. However, they claim that Libyan soldiers and officials forced them onto a waiting boat by firing their guns indirectly.

Although this is the first time that IOM has been told of migrants being forced by Libyan officials to get on a boat, many have told IOM that they did not have to pay for their passage to Lampedusa while others say they have paid a nominal fee.

However, they say that they been stripped by officials and soldiers of their savings and possessions, including mobile phones.

In contrast, Tunisian migrants arriving on Lampedusa have been paying up to 1,200 euros to make the sea journey on smugglers' boats from Tunisia.

Since the crisis started, more than 10,371 migrants of various nationalities have arrived on Lampedusa or the neighbouring island of Linosa from Libya with about 1,887arriving this weekend alone on five boats.

Meanwhile, IOM is hoping to continue its sea evacuations from the Libyan port city of Misrata in order to help prevent more tragedies of this kind and to lessen the suffering of migrant workers and wounded Libyan civilians.

So far, with funding from the Australian, British, German, Irish governments as well as the European Commission's Humanitarian Aid and Civilian Protection Office (ECHO), IOM has evacuated 6,263 people to Benghazi from Misrata.

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