Voice of America (Washington, DC)

29 August 2014

Africa: Recent Boat Tragedies Mark Deadly Journey for Migrants

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) says a series of tragic deaths in the Mediterranean last weekend marks one of the deadliest periods for the year for migrants trying to reach Italy from North Africa.

An estimated 230 migrants have been lost and presumed dead over several days. In one incident 200 migrants went missing during a shipwreck 32 nautical miles off the cost of Libya. In another case, six passengers drowned after a fishing boat capsized with some 370 migrants on board.

These events occurred after an earlier incident on August 25 just 120 nautical miles off the coast of Italy.

"Eighteen dead bodies were found on a rubber dingy which was rescued by Italian authorities," says Flavio Di Giacomo, the IOM spokesman in Rome. He said they met 73 survivors who arrived on a dingy. He says, "... it came out that on the dingy were people who were beaten by traffickers at the moment of their departure."

Di Giacomo said the migrants were injured and some were bleeding from the head. During the journey, the dingy began experiencing fuel leaks and engine problems. As the dingy began taking on water passengers jumped overboard, he said, to try to save themselves. Those who were injured were unable to swim to safety.

"They did not have the strength to save themselves swimming," he says. "They died, probably suffocated by the fumes of the engine, while those who left the boat swimming were rescued by an Italian ship. Seventy three people made it, while the other eight people - unfortunately - drowned while swimming."

Most of the people on the rubber dingy were from sub-Saharan Africa. Because of conflicts and instability in various regions of the world, Di Giacomo says, there were others from Syria, Eritrea, Somalia, Nigeria and Libya. Seven were Palestinians who had come from a refugee camp at the Syrian border.

"It is not an emergency in terms of excessive migrants, which in Europe even an excess of 100,000 is a lot. But, it is an emergency because all of these people, they risk their lives at sea. And before coming to Italy they are obliged to suffer a severe human rights violation in Libya (for example), and during the trip," said Di Giacomo.

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