UN voices shock at reports of neglect from survivors of Mediterranean boat tragedy

21 August 2009

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says it is shocked by the accounts heard from five Eritreans who are allegedly the sole survivors of a boat tragedy in the Mediterranean Sea in which some 75 others are feared to have perished.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says it is shocked by the accounts heard from five Eritreans who are allegedly the sole survivors of a boat tragedy in the Mediterranean Sea in which some 75 others are feared to have perished.

According to the survivors, around 80 people – mostly from Eritrea – set out over 20 days ago in a small boat from the Libyan capital, Tripoli, in an attempt to reach Italy. They then became stranded at sea without fuel, food or water.

“As thirst and hunger set in people started dying, one by one, as the boat drifted in the sea,” UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahecic told reporters today in Geneva. “As passengers died, the survivors threw them into the sea.”

A fishing boat came across the five survivors and offered them some bread and water, but then left them, he added. The stranded boat was then found off the island of Lampedusa on 20 August by Italian authorities who took the five to Italy for treatment.

“We are shocked by the accounts we heard,” said Mr. Mahecic. “It gives UNHCR cause for concern that these people report being passed by many vessels without any assistance being offered. This is contrary to the long-standing maritime tradition of rescue at sea which has been under threat and is increasingly being eroded.”

He added that the agency would be very concerned if the hardening of government policies towards boat people has the effect of discouraging ship masters from continuing to honour their international maritime obligations.

Italian authorities are reportedly searching for the bodies of the remaining migrants.

 

♦ Receive daily updates directly in your inbox - Subscribe here to a topic.
♦ Download the UN News app for your iOS or Android devices.

News Tracker: Past Stories on This Issue

Top UN refugee official calls for meeting on Mediterranean irregular migration

The top United Nations refugee official, António Guterres, has urged the European Commission (EC) to convene a gathering bringing together Italy, Malta, Libya, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and others to create a joint response to irregular migration across the Mediterranean Sea.