Bodies of 25 refugees found at bottom of boat in 'horrific' disaster in Mediterranean Sea

MSF rescuers say asylum seekers died of fuel inhalation on smugglers' dinghy

Lizzie Dearden
Wednesday 26 October 2016 14:39 BST
Refugees being rescued from a rubber dinghy where 25 bodies were found off the coast of Libya on 25 October
Refugees being rescued from a rubber dinghy where 25 bodies were found off the coast of Libya on 25 October (Borja Ruiz Rodriguez/MSF)

The bodies of 25 refugees have been found at the bottom of an overloaded rubber boat in the latest disaster in the Mediterranean Sea.

Rescue workers with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said people smugglers crammed around 130 people into the dingy before launching it from the Libyan coast.

More than 100 men, women and children were taken to safety, with photos that are too graphic to publish showing bodies of the dead lying face-down in seawater at the bottom of the boat.

Italian coastguard rescues thousands of refugees off coast of Libya

A MSF spokesperson said 23 of those rescued had “horrific” chemical burns and seven passengers needed to be evacuated to the Italian mainland for urgent medical treatment.

Among the dead was a woman whose eight-month-old baby and husband survived the journey and were taken to Italy.

Michele Telaro, the field coordinator on the Bourbon Argos, said they were believed to be victims of fuel inhalation.

“It took us three hours to retrieve 11 bodies because the mixture of petrol and water is so potent that we just couldn’t risk being in that boat for long periods of time,” he added. “It was horrific.”

MSF suspended the operation when darkness fell on Tuesday night, calling for assistance from another rescue boat run by Sea-Watch to recover the remaining 14 corpses in the morning.

Stefano Argenziano, the charity’s manager of migration operations for MSF, said the Mediterranean had been turned into a “maritime graveyard”.

“This is a tragedy but we can’t say that today is an exceptional day at sea,” he added.

“The past weeks have been horrific with our rescue teams and other boats involved in almost continuous rescues and far too many men, women and children dying…our rescue teams are overwhelmed by a policy made crisis where we feel powerless to stop the loss of life.”

MSF is among the groups calling for the EU to open up safe and legal pathways for refugees to prevent them being forced into the hands of ruthless people smugglers.

The disaster came as the UN warned that more refugees are dying in desperate attempts to reach Europe than ever before, with the Central Mediterranean route from Libya to Italy now the deadliest in the world.

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said the number of migrants drowning and suffocating on sea crossings so far this year has almost surpassed the death toll for the whole of 2015.

With 327,846 refugees arriving in 2016, it has recorded 3,740 deaths in the Mediterranean and fears the figure will continue to rise as conditions worsen at sea.

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