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UN refugee chief shocked as dozens of Africans die in boat tragedy off Italian coast

Italian coastguard vessels arrive at Lampedusa Island after rescuing people on the Mediterranean. (January 2012) Photo: UNHCR/F. Noy

3 October 2013 – The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees today expressed shock at the capsizing of a boat off the coast of the Italian island of Lampedusa which has reportedly led to the death of some 82 African migrants.

In a news release, António Guterres commended the swift action taken by the Italian Coast Guard to save lives, but had also “expressed his dismay at a rising global phenomenon of migrants and people fleeing conflict or persecution and perishing at sea.”

According to the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), of the estimated 500 passengers on the boat, believed to be Eritreans, only 147 have been rescued so far. The boat, which originated from Libya, caught fire half a mile from the coast. Media reports suggest there are still some 200 passengers that are unaccounted for.

UNHCR said it is actively engaging with countries in the region to provide effective alternatives for people resorting to taking these dangerous journeys so they do not have to risk their lives.

Today’s incident is the second boat disaster this week off Italy’s coast. Thirteen men drowned off the southern coast of Italy on Monday when they attempted to swim ashore from a foundering vessel.


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