Died because of overcrowded boat
2nd August 2011: About 25 African migrants attempting to find their way into Italy from Libya died in a boat stuffed with people.
So far, hundreds of migrants fleeing turbulence and clashes in Libya and across North Africa are believed to have died since the beginning of the year in desperate journeys across the Mediterranean. About 20,000 people have arrived in Italy by boat in recent months following unrest in Libya and Tunisia.
Coastguard Captain Antonio Morana said the 50-ft boat was carrying 296 people, including 36 women and 21 children. Officials found the corpses – all young men – after boarding the boat just a few miles off Lampedusa, a small island closer to Africa than Italy.
Lampedusa, which normally lives off tourism and fishing, has found itself on the frontline of a growing immigration crisis.
Boldrini said around 50 Somalis were believed to be on the boat, fleeing famine in the Horn of African region.
As per reports some of them were put away in the hold, which also served as an engine room. As the air became poisonous from exhaust fumes, the migrants tried to get out but the boat which was too packed for those standing above to move sideways.
UN High Commissioner for Refugees spokeswoman Laura Boldrini said: "From what they told us upon arrival, there was no air to breathe. Apparently they were so closely stuffed that there was nowhere to go." Bodrini added at least some of the migrants might have died from asphyxiation.
She added that the frantic conditions apparently also led to tension and possible scuffles on board as people struggled to stay alive. She said an investigation currently under way in the nearby city of Agrigento was necessary to ascertain what happened.
The bodies were put in green bags and lined up on Lampedusa’s dock, before being moved to an immigrant shelter on the island. Post-mortems will be performed, according to Agrigento prosecutor Renato Di Natale. Survivors were taken ashore and also moved to the immigrant shelter. Boldrini added: "The survivors were shocked."
She said smugglers stuff too many people on dangerous boats, which "leads to a situation on board where your death is my life, where you risk it all. It’s ferocious."
Capt Morana said all the victims recovered yesterday were believed to be of sub-Saharan origin. According to the survivors, the boat had set sail from Libya two days ago.