UN agency lauds Italian navy for sea rescue of refugees from Libya

world | Nov 11, 2011 | By UN News

An Italian coastguard vessel, carrying 142 people rescued at sea after fleeing Tripoli, prepares to dock at Lampedusa harbour. (May 2011)

The United Nations refugee agency today thanked the Italian navy for rescuing a boat that had been in distress in the Mediterranean Sea for two days, the first vessel originating from Libya that has arrived in Europe since mid-August.

According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the boat was carrying 44 people, mostly sub-Saharans. Relatives of some of the passengers onboard sent out distress calls from a satellite phone in the Mediterranean Sea on Tuesday evening.

A full 48 hours later, the boat was rescued by an Italian military vessel last night.

"UNHCR is grateful that the Italian navy took this initiative despite the fact that the boat was in Maltese search and rescue waters," spokesperson Adrian Edwards told reporters in Geneva.

He said the delay in rescuing the boat led to huge risks to the lives of the people onboard, including drowning, dehydration and exposure.

A woman with a small baby was evacuated by helicopter to Sicily from the Italian island of Lampedusa, Mr. Edwards added.

UNHCR had estimated that, as of mid-August, some 52,000 people had arrived in Italy since the unrest in North Africa began earlier this year " 27,000 of them departed from Libya and the rest from Tunisia.

Hundreds of people have also lost their lives attempting to reach Italy"s shores. At the start of June at least 150 people who fled Libya drowned in one of the year"s deadliest boat incidents in the Mediterranean.



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Source: UN News

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