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UN refugee agency fears 500 migrants drowned in Mediterranean

The UNHCR released a statement today after interviewing survivors.

File photo
File photo
Image: Matthias Schrader/AP/Press Association Images

THE UN REFUGEE agency said today that it feared around 500 migrants from Africa had drowned in the Mediterranean after witnesses said their overcrowded boat sank.

UNHCR spokeswoman Carlotta Sami said in a statement sent to AFP that survivors from Somalia, Sudan, Ethiopia and Egypt who were rescued from a small boat had described seeing “a large shipwreck that took place in the Mediterranean Sea claiming the lives of approximately 500 people”.

The survivors – 37 men, three women and a three-year-old child – said between 100 and 200 people had set off from near Tobruk in Libya in a large, unseaworthy vessel.

“In the middle of sea, the smugglers brought in more passengers, transferring them with a smaller boat. Due to the overcrowding, the large boat sank,” the statement said.

The survivors drifted at sea before being spotted and rescued on 16 April and arrived the following day in Kalamata, in Greece, the UN agency added.

It said the date of the sinking was still unclear, and gave no information about who rescued the migrants.

The statement is following on from unconfirmed reports on Monday that hundreds of migrants were feared drowned in the Mediterranean.

The UNHCR statement and survivors’ testimonies brings some clarification to the situation surrounding the suspected deaths and the fates of the survivors.

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With reporting from Cormac Fitzgerald.

© AFP 2016.

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