UNHCR urges Med shipping to assist all Libya boats
The UN refugee agency on Tuesday appealed to all shipping in the Mediterranean Sea to treat all boats leaving Libya as being in need of assistance.
The office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said the number of flimsy and overloaded boats carrying people fleeing Libya was increasing and recent incidents raised fears about their safety.
"We believe that any boat from Libya should be considered at first glance as a boat that is in need of assistance," UNHCR spokeswoman Melissa Fleming told journalists.
"We believe that all of these boats are carrying people who are trying to escape, many of whom are weakened by conflict, please do not wait for a call of distress."
"We are appealing, please, just go to the boat see if they need assistance and just rescue them," Fleming added.
Aid agencies have been piecing together consistent accounts from refugees and a diplomat in Libya indicating that an overloaded boat carrying up to 600 people capsized off the country's coast last week, leaving many dead.
"A senior Somali diplomat in Tripoli reported that 16 bodies had been recovered including those of two babies. The full death toll is unknown to us," Fleming said.
Some 150 refugees fleeing Libya are believed to have died on April 6 after their boat capsized in stormy weather in the middle of the Mediterranean. Italian coastguards managed to pluck 53 survivors from the sea.
Fleming also noted that most of the boats reaching the Italian island of Lampedusa needed assistance.
"We're reiterating our appeal to European states to urgently put in place more reliable and effective mechanism for rescue at sea on the Mediterranean," she said.
© 2011 AFP