It is with great sadness that UNHCR received the news that 54 people perished attempting the sea journey from Libya to Italy. According to the sole survivor, an Eritrean man, 55 people boarded the boat in Libya in late June. He reported that all the other passengers died of dehydration during a 15 day ordeal.
“This is a tragedy,” said T. Alexander Aleinikoff, Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees. “Fifty four people have lost their lives.”
Fishermen found the survivor off the Tunisian coast last night. They alerted the Tunisian Coast Guard who rescued the man. He was immediately taken to Zarzis hospital where he is being treated for dehydration and exposure.
UNHCR staff interviewed the survivor. He said that the boat left from Tripoli in Libya in late June and a day later the boat reached the Italian coast, but high winds forced the boat back to sea. Within a few days the inflatable boat was punctured and air started to leak out.
According to the survivor, there was no water on board and people started to die of dehydration within days. Many drank sea water, including the man who survived. He was rescued floating on the remains of the boat and a jerry can. According to the survivor over half of the deceased were from Eritrea, including three of his relatives.
“I call upon all vessels at sea to be on heightened alert for migrants and refugees needing rescue in the Mediterranean,” said Aleinikoff. “The Mediterranean is one of the busiest seaways in the world and it is imperative that the time honoured tradition of rescue at sea be upheld.”
So far in 2012, over 1,300 people have arrived by boat from Libya in Italy. A boat, reportedly carrying 50 Eritreans and Somalis, is currently at sea. They refused to be rescued by Maltese military forces yesterday.
Over 1,000 people on 14 boats have arrived in Malta from Libya so far this year. Two other boats were intercepted by Maltese authorities, but the majority elected not to be rescued and continued to Italy.
UNHCR Italy estimates that so far this year some 170 people have been declared dead or lost at sea attempting to make the journey from Libya to Europe.