Wednesday, 16 November 2016

At least 240 refugees drown in boat disasters in Mediterranean Sea as 2016 death toll passes 4,500

At least 240 refugees have died in 48 hours of boat disasters in the Mediterranean Sea as asylum seekers continue desperate attempts to reach Europe in worsening weather.

Only 15 people survived one sinking off the coast of Libya on Monday, telling rescuers around 135 people who had been packed into their rubber dinghy drowned.

At least 95 others died in a second disaster on Tuesday, with just nine bodies recovered from the water so far, pushing the death toll for 2016 over 4,500.

Survivors of the first sinking arrived on an Italian Coast Guard ship in the Sicilian port of Catania on Wednesday, where they told the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) of their ordeal

“The survivors told us that there were about 150 people on board, so there would be about 135 missing,” spokesperson Iosta Ibba told AFP.

On Tuesday, an oil tanker was dispatched by Italian commanders to another capsized dinghy and rescued 23 of more than 120 people who had set out from Libya.

They were plucked out of the water and transferred to the Aquarius humanitarian ship run by SOS Mediterranée and Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) to be taken to Italy.

Jugend Rettet, a German NGO, said its vessel had been recovered dead bodies from the water but the vast majority of refugees killed in boat disasters are never found or identified.

A survivor told a member of SOS Mediterranée staff that the dinghy had begun to sink at 6am, four hours before the tanker arrived.

"We were 122 on the boat, no children under 15, but there were 10 women travelling with us and only one survived,” the survivor was quoted as saying.

"We waited in the water, taking any floating thing to remain afloat, but most of the people drowned, including my little brother. He was 15.

"At 10am the tanker came and rescued us. I want to call home to tell them that my brother died."

People smugglers have continued to launch overcrowded boats from the Libyan coast despite worsening weather conditions, seeing a string of tragedies in recent weeks.

Also on Tuesday, the Aquarius was called to a deflating refugee dinghy off the coast of Libya that had been at sea for 12 hours.

Rescuers arrived to find the boat filled with water and sinking, with panicking refugees jumping into the water including one person who the team could not prevent from drowning.

Five dead bodies were found on the boat and a 10-year-old boy and a woman had to be evacuated by helicopter for emergency medical attention, while 114 survivors were treated for hypothermia, fuel inhalation and chemical burns.

Three children under the age of five, 21 minors and eight women were among the saved passengers.

The refugee crisis has made the passage from Libya to Italy the deadliest in the deadliest in the world, claiming the vast majority of more than 4,300 lives lost in treacherous sea crossings to Europe so far this year.

It is the highest number on record, with analysts warning that EU anti-smuggling missions have driven people smugglers to pack refugees into ever smaller and less seaworthy boats to evade detection.

The Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS), a rescue charity, said efforts in the Mediterranean were becoming more challenging than ever, with humanitarian efforts overwhelmed by the changing tactics of smuggling networks.

The group said gangs appeared to be “industrialising” to meet demand as conflict and lawlessness continues in Libya, where asylum seekers report being detained, extorted and tortured before they are forced on to overcrowded boats.

“The combination of heavier loads and inferior quality is a recipe for disaster”, said MOAS head of operations Ian Ruggier. “There is no doubt that the vessels are built to last a few miles to see people beyond Libyan territorial waters.”

The group said the true death toll is almost certainly far higher than the recorded figure as many boat sinkings are feared to be unrecorded, and bodies washed back on to Libya’s shores are not routinely counted.

It is among several humanitarian groups calling on EU countries to provide safe passage for refugees trying to reach safety, such as resettlement programmes and visas, but political will has waned as anti-immigration parties continue to gain popularity.

Charities are additionally warning of dire conditions at overwhelmed reception and detention centres in Italy and Greece, but several nations, including the UK, are not taking part in a quota system for those who have already landed in Europe.

More than 340,200 migrants and asylum seekers have arrived in Europe by sea so far this year, with the crossing from Libya becoming the dominant route since the controversial EU-Turkey deal was implemented to stop arrivals over the Aegean Sea.

Around a quarter of those arriving are Syrian, followed by Afghans, Nigerians, Iraqis, Eritreans and other nationalities across Africa, the Middle East and Asia.

Wednesday 16 November 2016

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Friday, 4 November 2016

240 migrants feared dead after boats capsize in the Mediterranean in new refugee disaster

SURVIVORS say as many as 240 people have died in two shipwrecks off Libya, the UN refugee agency reported Thursday, bringing this year’s toll to more than 4220 migrants dead or missing in risky Mediterranean Sea crossings, the highest count on record.

Carlotta Sami, a UNHCR spokeswoman in Italy, said 31 survivors of two shipwrecks who arrived on the southern Italian island of Lampedusa reported that the rubber dinghies they were travelling in had capsized Wednesday in heavy seas shortly after leaving Libya.

The first dinghy — which carried around 140 people, including six children and about 20 women, some pregnant — sank when wooden planks laid at the bottom broke, causing the dinghy to capsize 25 miles (40km) off the Libyan coast, the UNHCR said. Twenty-nine people were rescued, and 12 bodies were recovered.

In a separate operation, two women found swimming at sea told rescuers that 128 other people had died in their wreck.

“I am deeply saddened by another tragedy on the high seas,” said UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi. “So many lives could be saved through more resettlement and legal pathways to protection. The Mediterranean is a deadly stretch of sea for refugees and migrants, yet they still see no other option but to risk their lives to cross it.” UNHCR emphasised that the number of dead was an estimate.

International agencies rely heavily on survivor accounts to tally the number of people dead or missing in the dangerous journey across the Mediterranean in smugglers’ boats.

Often the boats sink in high seas, where it is difficult if not impossible to recover any bodies. In both cases reported Thursday, most people on board appeared to have been sub-Saharan Africans.

UNHCR said the increased number of deaths this year is partly due to the fact that smugglers are often using rubber dinghies, which are prone to deflating, capsizing and losing people who fall overboard. In addition, more migrants are arriving with severe burns from being exposed to fuel mixed with sea water in the bottom of the dinghies. Smugglers are using rubber dinghies because they are cheaper and easier to obtain.

According to the IOM, 3777 people were dead or missing as they tried to cross the Mediterranean last year, the previous high.

Friday 4 November 2016

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30 more bodies pulled from sea in Batam

Rescuers have recovered 30 more bodies from waters around Nongsa Point Marina in Batam, Riau Islands, on Friday morning, bringing the total number of deceased victims in a fatal boat accident in the area to 51. The bodies have been taken to the Riau Islands Police’s Bhayangkara Hospital for identification.

Police spokesperson Adj.Sr.Comr.Erlangga said the remains were seen floating on the sea surface. “The weather today is relatively good compared to the two previous days, enabling the search to run smoothly,” he told The Jakarta Post on Friday.

With the latest operation result, Erlangga said nine people remained missing and relevant authorities would continue their search operations

“The search operation will be conducted until Nov.9 or seven days after the incident. But the emergency period can be extended, depending on the situation on the field. Insya Allah [God willing] we can recover all passengers still missing today,” said Erlangga, adding it had been confirmed that 41 survived the incident.

He said 40 boats provided by several institutions and two helicopters belonging to the Riau Islands Police and the National Search and Rescue Agency (Basarnas) were involved in the search operation.

As reported earlier, a boat carrying 98 illegal Indonesian migrant workers and their families and three crew members sank in Nongsa waters early on Wednesday. Having departed from Selingi, Johor Bahru, Malaysia, the boat capsized when it was struck by a large wave in Nongsa.

It was earlier reported that 18 people were killed in the incident before rescuers in a follow up operation found three more bodies on Thursday evening. A member of the Batam Disaster Mitigation Agency’s (BPBD) rescue team, Zabri Alhijra, said locals found the three bodies on Tanjung Memban Beach, Batam, at around 11:30 p.m.

“They found them floating on the water. They were later handed over to the rescue team,” said Zabri. Strong winds and large waves had hampered rescue operations, Zabri added.

Friday 4 November 2016

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Shipyard disaster: Rescuers spot four more bodies on tanker deck

Rescue workers have spotted three to four bodies lying on the deck of a burning tanker on Thursday as firefighters continued their battle to put out the blaze following a series of explosions aboard the vessel on November 1 at the Gadani ship-breaking yard.

“Some three to four burnt corpses were seen by the rescuers as they managed to climb up the ship in a bid to determine the situation inside the burning vessel,” Saad, grandson of the late philanthropist Abdul Sattar Edhi, told The Express Tribune.

More than 100 people who were reportedly inside the 1995-built tanker Aces at the time of the explosion are unaccounted for.

Eighteen-year-old Saad, who has taken part in the rescue operation since day one, explained that rescuers from the Edhi Foundation and the fire-brigade department, however, could not fetch the bodies down to the ground because of metal sheets that were too hot to stand on.

Rescuers were finding it difficult to carry out their work on the deck in the rear from where flames were leaping into the air, he said.

Meanwhile, workers continued their strike over the tragic incident which is seen as the worst disaster in the history of Gadani ship-breaking yard.

So far, 19 people are confirmed dead while over 50 others are injured.

Friday 4 November 2016

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