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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 more than 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 August 20, by Italian authorities who took the five to Italy for treatment.
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Voice of America reports the United Nations refugee agency has accused Italy of forcibly deporting asylum seekers to Libya.
The UNHCR says more than 80 people, most from Eritrea, were intercepted by the Italian Navy on July 1. It says the asylum seekers were picked up near the Italian island of Lempedusa, transferred to a Libyan ship and later transported to Libya.
The U.N. refugee agency says the group of asylum seekers was placed in detention centers upon their arrival in Libya. It says 76 of the 82 people intercepted at sea by the Italian navy originate from Eritrea, including nine women and at least six children.
Meanwhile, AFP reports that
Italy has demanded an apology from the UN refugee agency in an angry response Tuesday to a complaint that a group of African would-be immigrants were mistreated.
European Affairs Minister Andrea Ronchi said the UNHCR should be ashamed of the “repugnant and false” accusations against Italy’s armed forces, which he said had been made without even checking the facts with Rome.
The BBC reports from Malta about the increasing surge in immigrants landing on the Mediterranean island.
“The boat was very small, the water easily gets in the boat, and the boat is leaking even before you get in the boat.”
A quietly spoken 24-year-old Ethiopian man sits in the spartan office of the Jesuit Refugee Service in Malta. He is typical of the thousands of African men, women and children who risk a perilous sea crossing on the Mediterranean hoping for a new life in Europe.
What began as a trickle – six years ago, 500 were rescued by the Maltese – now feels to islanders like a flood. In the 12 months to March, some 3,400 arrived.
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The Times of Malta newspaper reports that during a conference marking five years since Malta joined the European Union, the topic of immigration was at the forefront.
The forced return of migrants was described as a “loss for humanity” in a statement issued by the Director of the Jesuit Refugee Service in Malta, Fr. Joseph Cassar.
“Forcibly returning people to a country where they may face ill-treatment and be pushed back into the arms of their persecutors, without an assessment of their need for protection, violates international law,” he said.
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