15th Apr 2024

Italy rescues 500 Libya refugees from shipwreck

  • More than 500 Africans were rescued from a shipwreck off the Italian coast (Photo: Valentina Pop)

More than 500 refugees who travelled from Libya, mostly sub-Saharan Africans, were rescued in the early hours of Saturday morning (8 May) after their overloaded boat sank a dozen miles from the Italian coast of Lampedusa.

The Italian coast guard managed to save all 528 migrants, including women and babies, during a dramatic operation around 3 am on Sunday, after the fishing boat hit some rocks and started sinking.

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"It was a difficult situation. Our patrol boats couldn't come close because of the shallow water and the undertow was very strong," Antonio Morana, a coast guard spokesman, told AFP news agency.

In a separate incident, some 600 Africans fleeing Libya are feared dead after their boat capsized soon after it left the port of Tripoli on Friday.

Some survivors are said to have managed to get to shore after swimming for two hours, while merchant ships have recovered at least 12 bodies, Malta Today reports.

"The rescue of 500 refugees by the Italian Coast Guard from a sinking ship near the island of Lampedusa on Sunday, for which I would like to express my admiration to the Italian authorities, points once again to the need for urgent action," EU home affairs commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said in a press statement.

She repeated calls on EU nations to shoulder the burden of refugees from Libya with Tunisia and Egypt, who received more than 650,000 people since violence erupted in the country.

A meeting of interior ministers, representatives of the UN refugee agency and the EU asylum support office is scheduled for 12 May. "This conference will specifically call for relocation and resettlement, and discuss and review the commitments and pledges by member states," Malmstrom said.

The pope, in his weekly mass on Sunday, told Italian worshippers to be more tolerant towards north African migrants, not to fear or reject them.

Separately, a report by the Guardian published on Sunday revealed that a boat carrying 72 people from Tripoli late March was ignored for over two weeks by European and Nato military vessels, so that "all but 11 of those on board died from thirst and hunger."

"Every morning we would wake up and find more bodies, which we would leave for 24 hours and then throw overboard," Abu Kurke, one of the survivors told the Guardian. Nato has denied the claim that any vessel under its command had spotted the boat.

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EU countries have "shamefully" failed to help some 5,000 African refugees who fled the violence directed against them in Libya and are now stranded on the Egyptian and Tunisian borders, a humanitarian watchdog said Monday.

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