Bodies of 150 African refugees recovered off coast

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The Independent Online

The bodies of 150 African refugees fleeing turmoil in Libya have been recovered off the Tunisian coast after vessels carrying them to Europe got into difficulty.

The boats ran into problems on Tuesday about 12 miles off the Tunisian island of Kerkennah, en route to Italy.

Tunisian coastguard vessels aided by the military rescued 570 people, but many others went into the water when a stampede to get off the small fishing boats caused some of the vessels to capsize.

Rough seas and stormy weather further hampered rescue efforts, and about 250 people were reported missing.

"Up to 150 bodies of refugees have been found off the shores of Kerkennah," said Carole Laleve, an official with the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR. "Search operations are continuing."

Thousands of people fleeing upheavals in North Africa have been heading to Italy on rickety boats, creating a refugee crisis on the Italian island of Lampedusa.