500 Refugees Feared Dead in Mediterranean Sea

Refugees ask for help from a dinghy boat as they are approached by the SOS Mediterranee's ship Aquarius Refugees ask for help from a dinghy boat as they are approached by the SOS Mediterranee's ship Aquarius © Patrick Bar/SOS Mediterranee/AP

20 April 2016 
An overcrowded boat, with 500 refugees, sank in the Mediterranean in what could be one of the worst tragedies in the last 12 months.

On April 16, a merchant ship rescued 37 men, three women and a three-year old child, survivors of a sunken boat in the Mediterranean that killed as many as 500 refugees and migrants. The survivors were taken to Kalamata, in the Peloponnese peninsula of Greece after drifting at sea for possibly three days before being spotted and rescued.

A UN Refugee Agency team interviewed the survivors who said that they were part of group of between 100 and 200 people who departed from Libya the previous week on a 30-metre-long boat. “After several hours at sea, the smugglers in charge of the boat attempted to transfer the passengers to a larger ship carrying hundreds of people in terribly crowded conditions. At one point during the transfer, the larger boat capsized and sank,” said the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in a statement. The larger vessel capsized somewhere between Libya and Italy.

“The boat was going down, down. All the people died in a matter of minutes. After the shipwreck we were drifted at sea for a few days, without food, without anything,” said an Ethiopian man named Mohamed. He told the International Organization for Migration (IOM) that his wife, two-month-old child and brother-in-law died in the sinking.

The 41 survivors were among the people that had not transferred to the larger boat, as well as some of the people from the larger boat that managed to swim back to the smaller boat. Among the survivors are 23 Somalis, 11 Ethiopians, 6 Egyptians and a Sudanese. The survivors have been temporarily housed at the local stadium of Kalamata by local authorities, while they undergo police procedures and are visited by UNHCR.

This year, 179,552 refugees and migrants have reached Europe by sea crossing the Mediterranean and the Aegean. At least 761 people have died or gone missing along the journey. UNHCR continues to urge for an increased in regular pathways for refugees and asylum-seekers to Europe, that would prevent, or at the very least reduce, the demand for people smuggling and dangerous irregular sea journeys.


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