IOM says 500 migrants feared dead after boat sinks off Libyan coast

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Published Monday, September 15, 2014

Updated 7:06 pm: The International Organization for Migration, citing two survivors, said that up to 500 migrants were on the boat when it capsized, a figure which could not be independently verified.

Two Palestinians plucked from the water by a freighter on Thursday after their boat capsized near Malta told the organization that there had been around 500 passengers on the vessel, which was wrecked on purpose by people smugglers.

"Two survivors brought to Sicily told us that there had been at least 500 people on board. Nine other survivors were rescued by Greek and Maltese ships, but all the rest appear to have perished," said Flavio Di Giacomo, IOM's spokesman in Italy.

According to the survivors, the Syrian, Palestinian, Egyptian and Sudanese migrants set out from Damietta in Egypt on September 6, and were forced to change boats several times during the crossing towards Europe.

IOM's spokeswoman Christiane Berthiaume told Reuters "survivors have testified that the traffickers arrived aboard two boats and ordered the migrants to change vessels in the middle of the sea. The migrants said it was too dangerous and refused. There was a violent altercation and the traffickers used their boat to ram the migrants' boat."

Italian police have opened an inquiry into the shipwreck.

According to the Italian navy, some 2380 migrants and asylum seekers were rescued over the weekend by Italy's large-scale naval deployment dubbed "Mare Nostrum", launched after over 400 people died in two shipwrecks last October.

(AFP, Reuters, Al-Akhbar)

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