By Stefan Steinberg:
One hundred and fifty feared dead in Mediterranean boat tragedy
7 April 2011
Coast guards reported that the straits between the island of Lampedusa and the North African coast were the scene of yet another tragedy, after a boat capsized in stormy seas with many lives lost.
The boat is believed to have been transporting around 200 African refugees trying to flee the fighting in Libya and the bombardment of the country by NATO bombers and fighter planes. Coast guard officials told media outlets that the boat most likely departed two days ago from the town of Zuwarah in western Libya.
48 survivors were picked up by coast guards, some suffering from hypothermia. Local officials say the chance of finding any more survivors is slim, in particular due to the absence of lifejackets amongst those recovered. More than a dozen bodies were spotted in the sea, and rescue officials in Lampedusa declared: “We fear that many people may have died.”
Survivors declared that the boat, which was estimated to have been only 13 metres long, had been carrying about 200 persons, including many women and a handful of children. This means that over 130 are still unaccounted for, presumed dead.
In recent years Lampedusa has been the stopping-off point for tens of thousands of young Africans seeking to flee destitution in their own countries and seek better working and living conditions in Europe. Paying thousands of dollars to traffickers for transit, these young men, women, and frequently children, set off in often unseaworthy vessels to travel less than 100 miles from the coast of Tunisia or other North African countries to Lampedusa.
In the past few years thousands have met their deaths on this hazardous journey to reach Europe. Between July 2008 and July 2009 more than 20,000 migrants made the perilous journey from Tunisia to Lampedusa, with hundreds dying at sea along the route. This number then fell dramatically, in line with the deportation policy introduced by Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.
This flow of migrants has surged again after the recent social upheavals in the Maghreb and the NATO war against Libya.
See also here.
Last week, France took the unprecedented move of restoring border controls with Italy on April 7, after Rome granted temporary visas to thousands of African migrants: here.