Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Scores of migrants missing as boat capsizes off Italy

The BBC's Emma Wallis in Rome: "Coastguards are not giving up on the missing people yet"

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Rescuers are searching for scores of migrants missing in the Mediterranean after their boat capsized off the Italian isle of Lampedusa.
Italian rescue vessels and a helicopter saved 48 refugees from the boat, which may have been carrying 200-300 people.
About 20 bodies were spotted at the scene, some 70km (40 miles) from Lampedusa, which has struggled to cope with migrants from north Africa.
Officials said the boat left two days ago from Zuwara in western Libya.
The Italian Coast Guard responded to a distress call from the boat at about 0400 local time (0200 GMT) on Wednesday.
Three Coast Guard vessels are involved in the search, along with two planes and a helicopter.
"We have rescued 48 people alive from the sea while around 20 bodies have been spotted by the crew of the helicopter," coast guard spokesman Vittorio Alessandro told AFP.
"We are still hoping. Our boats and helicopters have thrown all sorts of lifejackets and lifeboats to allow people to hold on," Mr Alessandro said.
He said the boat had been caught in high seas caused by strong winds and had overturned after passengers panicked.
Coast guard officials said the boat had been carrying around 200 people but the International Organisation of Migration put the figure at 300, saying 250 were still missing.
Italian officials say the rescue was initially hampered by the darkness and bad weather.
The rescue is being run in conjunction with the Maltese authorities.
A man is carried on a stretcher upon his arrival in Lampedusa, southern Italy, Wednesday, April 6, 2011. Survivors were wrapped in blankets and taken to hospital
Migrant influx The Coast Guard said in a statement that the boat was 13m (42 ft) long and left two days ago from the town of Zuwara in Libya, which is embroiled in a civil war.
Those on the boat were mostly Eritreans and Somalis, the statement added.
Hundreds of refugees from Libya, many of them migrant workers, have landed in Italy in recent days.
Those rescued were wrapped in thermal blankets and some were taken to hospital.
Italy and Tunisia agreed measures on Tuesday to stop large numbers of illegal immigrants arriving on Lampedusa from Tunisia, which has been in turmoil since a revolution in January.
Italy says it will give six-month residency papers to some 20,000 migrants already in Italy, but new arrivals will be deported.
The accord followed talks between Italy's Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and Tunisian ministers in Tunis on Monday. Mr Berlusconi also visited Lampedusa last week and pledged to tackle the island's migrant influx.
Italy has moved many migrants from Lampedusa to the mainland, because they outnumbered locals and overwhelmed the holding facility there. Unhygienic conditions, with dozens of migrants sleeping rough outdoors, created a health risk.
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