Tue, Apr 05, 2011 - Page 6 News List

Fears grow for migrants missing off Italian coast

The Guardian, ROME

More than 400 migrants seeking to travel to Italy on two vessels are feared drowned after going missing days ago in the Mediterranean, a UN official said on Sunday.

As Italy began the evacuation from Lampedusa of the 3,000 Tunisians who have reached the island since the collapse of the Tunisian government in January, another 362 migrants arrived in leaking vessels by midday on Sunday.

However, two boats that reportedly set out from Libya on March 22 and March 25, one carrying 335 Eritreans and the other 68 Eritreans and Ethiopians, have disappeared.

“We are urging the coastguard to carry on searching since even after 20 days at sea, some people can survive,” said Laura Boldrini, a UN spokeswoman.

The head of an asylum seekers’ organization said he had last spoken to migrants on board the smaller boat, an inflatable, by satellite phone on March 26 before the line went dead.

“I have, meanwhile, had no contact with the larger boat, but family members of those on board have called us from Canada, Sweden and Switzerland to tell us they left,” Father Mose Zerai said.

The number reportedly on board the inflatable matches the 68 corpses pulled out of the Mediterranean last week and taken to Tripoli, according to Catholic church workers in the Libyan capital.

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