2012-07-11 12:31:49

Questions after 54 die crossing Mediterranean

Fifty four people trying to reach Italy from Libya died of thirst after a 15-day voyage in which their rubber boat was driven back from the Italian coast by strong winds. The tragedy is the latest in a long series of disasters which have killed thousands of migrants trying to reach Europe from North Africa in small, and often overcrowded, boats.

According to the UN spokeswoman Laura Boldrini, the sole survivor reported that 55 people boarded the boat in Libya in late June.

"He said that problems were immediately apparent on the boat, that unfortunately they weren't even allowed to take a bottle of water and so once they got lost and the voyage continued, people started to get sick and die because of the lack of water," she told SkyTG24 television.

"How is it possible that in a sea like the Mediterranean which is full of fishing boats, cargo ships, naval ships, these people were just like that left to their fate?" she asked.

Her concerns were shared by Christopher Hein, the director of the Italian Council for Refugees.

“It is very, very difficult to believe in 15 days nobody has seen this boat,” he said. “This is the question. Unfortunately, we don’t have an answer.”

The survivor said over half of the dead were originally from Eritrea, including three members of his family. According to the UN Refugee Agency, around 170 people have died so far this year trying to reach Europe from Libya.

Hein told Vatican Radio if conditions for migrants and refugees were better in North Africa, fewer might attempt the deadly passage across the Mediterranean.

“In Libya there are still conditions where this is no possibility of asking for asylum,” he explained. “There is no law on asylum. There are no structures, and the alternative for the people is to be detained in horrible detention centres.”

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