Sunday, April 24, 2016

'I saw my wife and baby die at sea': Survivors of refugee boat sinking that killed up to 500 describe disaster | Europe | News | The Independent

Survivors of one of the refugee crisis’ most deadly boat disasters have told of their despair at watching their loved ones die.
“I saw my wife and my two-month-old child die at sea, together with my brother-in-law,” an asylum seeker from Ethiopia said. 
“The boat was going down...down...all the people died in a matter of minutes.” 
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UN probes reports of refugee deaths after ship sinks
Mohamed is just one of 41 people rescued from a shipwreck that killed up to 500 people trying to cross from Libya to Italy last week.
“After the shipwreck we drifted at sea for a few days, without food, without anything,” he said.
“I think thought I was going to die. When we were rescued we were told them that we wanted to go to Italy, but we have been brought to Greece.”
He was interviewed by staff from the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) after arriving in the port of Kalamata.
Between 400 and 500 asylum seekers are believed to have died in the disaster, which was one of the most deadly sinkings since around 800 people died off the coast of Libya on 19 April 2015.
The 41 survivors, from Somalia, Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan, were eventually spotted by a Filipino cargo ship after drifting for three days.
Survivors of a deadly shipwreck, Ismam Mowlid of Somalia (L) and Mahmud Muaz of Ethiopia in Athens on 21 April (AFP/Getty Images)
Mowlid Isman, a 28-year-old from Somalia who lost his sister and her child in the disaster, said: “We saw the dead people with our eyes.”
He and another man who was rescued described how they managed to clamber onto a smaller boat but that the smuggler controlling it refused to wait for those still struggling in the sea around them.
Muaz Mahmud Aymo, a 25-year-old Ethiopian migrant who lost his wife and baby, said the smuggler brandished a knife and threatened to kill him before speeding away from refugees crying out for help.
"(The smugglers) say: ‘You are gonna go to Italy. Today. Tonight. No problem. You are safe," he said. "All the people, they die on that ocean."
They had left the Libyan port of Tobruk, Libya, on several small boats to reach a larger vessel waiting off the coast. 
The tactic is frequently used by smugglers to evade detection by Libyan authorities, militias and European Union surveillance ships.
When the refugees arrived at the wooden vessel after several hours, they found it already dangerously overcrowded but said they and around 200 others were forced to join the 300 already on board.
Coast guard members help survivors to disembark at the port of Kalmata in South Peloponnese, Greece, 17 April 2016. (AFP/Getty Images)
The 30 metre long boat started taking on water as the transfer continued, they told the IOM, sparking scenes of panic as it started to sink.
Survivors said they and some others made it back to a smaller boat that delivered them there but most drowned with the ship as it rocked violently from side to side and capsized.
Smugglers had charged the desperate men, women and children between $800 (£500) and $2,000 (£1,400) for the deadly voyage.
The 37 men, three women and a three-year-old child have been fingerprinted by Greek authorities and have been given papers allowing them to stay in the country for six months.
“The testimonies we gathered are heartbreaking,” said Daniel Esdras, the IOM’s mission chief in Athens. 
“We await further investigations by authorities to better understand what actually happened and find hopefully evidence against criminal smugglers.”
The number of migrants known to have drowned in the Mediterranean so far this year is nearing 1,300, according to UNHCR figures, and campaigners fear the toll will rise as a crackdown on crossings between Greece and Turkey push refugees on to longer and more dangerous routes.
The Central Mediterranean route between North Africa and Italy has seen the bulk of disasters, with at least 380 people additionally drowning on the eastern route across the Aegean.
More than 180,000 refugees have arrived on European shores since January – a far greater number compared to the same period last year – but face ever tighter asylum restrictions and closed borders across the continent.
A spokesperson for the UNHCR called on nations to increase legal entry routes for asylum seekers, including resettlement programmes, family reunification, student and work visas and the possibility of private sponsorship.
“These will all serve to reduce the demand for people smuggling and dangerous irregular sea journeys,” he added.
Angela Merkel joined European Union officials on a trip to Turkey on Saturday in a bid to bolster the troubled refugee agreement, which has seen the country promised billions of Euros and visa concessions.
Human rights groups criticised a planned trip to what they call a “sanitised” refugee camp near the Syrian border, where Turkish guards have been accused of shooting asylum seekers fleeing worsening violence.
Additional reporting by AP

Friday, April 22, 2016

Survivor Tells of Mediterranean Sea Disaster That May Have Killed 500 Migrants - The New York Times

Survivor Tells of Mediterranean Sea Disaster That May Have Killed 500 Migrants - The New York Times: "Two migrants from Ethiopia and Somalia recalled a shipwreck in the Mediterranean last week that they survived, though hundreds of others from the boat may have died. By REUTERS on Publish Date April 21, 2016. Photo by Nikitas Kotsiaris/European Pressphoto Agency. Watch in Times Video »
Muaz Mahmud’s wife and 2-month-old son barely had time to scream as the cold waters of the Mediterranean surged over their heads.

Minutes earlier, they had been forced by smugglers to abandon the boat they had chartered in Libya last week for a larger boat already packed with 300 migrants heading toward Italy.

As the bigger boat took on more passengers, it began to list, Mr. Mahmud said Thursday. When it capsized, hundreds of panicked people — many of whom could not swim — were thrown into the sea.

Mr. Mahmud and another survivor of last week’s shipwreck recounted grim details of the sinking, in which 500 passengers may have died, making it the deadliest episode for asylum seekers trying to reach Europe since more than 800 drowned last April in a boat trying to reach Italy.

At a news conference in Athens, the men described how smugglers had promised to help them flee poverty and conflict in Africa for the safety of Europe, only to install them in floating death traps and abandon them when the journey became too dangerous.

The authorities in the region have not yet verified the disaster, and no national coast guards have located the sunken boat. But the latest tragedy, if confirmed, would bring the number of migrants who have died on the Mediterranean between North Africa and Europe this year to nearly 800, the International Organization for Migration said."

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