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Fears for 500 on sunken boat as two Palestinian migrants are rescued in Mediterranean

The UN has estimated that 2,200 people have drowned crossing the seas since June.

Italian Navy frigate carrying the victims and the survivors of a migrant boat that sank in May.
Italian Navy frigate carrying the victims and the survivors of a migrant boat that sank in May.
Image: AP/Press Association Images

TWO PALESTINIANS HAVE been rescued after their migrant boat carrying an estimated 500 people was sank by traffickers, sparking fears for the lives of scores of others.

The tragedy is the latest in a series of such incidents where refugees attempting to leave Africa for Europe have drowned.

Over 300 people died in last year’s disaster off the Italian island of Lampedusa which led to calls for greater European patrols in Mediterranean waters.

In this latest reported tragedy, the International Organization for Migration says that two Palestinians were plucked from the water by an Italian freighter last Thursday after their boat capsized near Malta.

They told the organisation that there had been around 500 people on board the vessel, which had been sunk on purpose by traffickers.

Details of the shipwreck could not be independently verified.

According to the survivors, the Syrian, Palestinian, Egyptian and Sudanese migrants set out from Damietta in Egypt on 6 September, and were forced to change boats several times during the crossing towards Europe.

The traffickers, who were on a separate boat, then ordered them onto another, smaller vessel, which many of the migrants feared was too small to hold them.

When they refused to cross over to the new boat, the furious traffickers reportedly rammed their boat until it capsized, the organisation said.

The UN has estimated that over 2,500 people have drowned or gone missing attempting a Mediterranean crossing this year alone, including over 2,200 since the start of June.

Dozens of African migrants were also missing and feared dead after their boat sank off the coast of Libya over the weekend.

Only 36 of the migrants, including three women, were rescued after the boat carrying some 200 migrants sank in waters east of Tripoli on Sunday.

The UN high commissioner for refugees António Guterres and special envoy Angelina Jolie visited a naval rescue headquarters in Malta yesterday to speak to families who had survived boat sinkings.

Both Guterres and Jolie said that a Europe-wide approach to the is needed to address the problem as the sustainability of a current Italian led operation is questioned.

“There is a direct link between the conflicts in Syria and elsewhere and the rise in deaths at sea in the Mediterranean,” Jolie said. “We have to understand what drives people to take the fearful step of risking their children’s lives on crowded, unsafe vessels; it is the overwhelming desire to find refuge.”

The UN says that 130,000 people have arrived in Europe by sea so far this year, more than double the 60,000 recorded in 2013. Italy has received over 118,000 arrivals, most of them rescued at sea by Italy under its Navy operation Mare Nostrum.

As part of a response to the problem, the UN Human Rights Council is also calling for more leal alterntives for refugees fleeing conflict and persuecution so that “they are not forced to attempt the crossing into Europe by sea”.

With reporting from © – AFP 2014 

Read: EU demands extra search patrols as 300 feared dead in Italy migrant boat tragedy >

Read: Three hundred people now feared dead after migrant boat disaster >

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Rónán Duffy

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