'Up to 500 dead' in refugee boat sinking, survivors tell UN investigators

Many details surrounding the reported huge refugee sinking incident remain unclear

Adam Withnall
Wednesday 20 April 2016 13:51
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The flow of refugees heading to Europe has continued into 2016
The flow of refugees heading to Europe has continued into 2016

Up to 500 refugees are feared to have died an overloaded fishing vessel capsized in the Mediterranean last week, survivors have said, as new details emerged surrounding one of the deadliest incidents to befall migrants to Europe in months.

A group of 41 survivors who said they were able to escape to a smaller vessel were brought to the Greek mainland, and they have now told their story to the UN’s refugee agency.

The survivors were mostly men, a spokesman for the UNHCR said, though the group also included three women and a three-year-old baby. They were brought ashore at Kalamata after they were spotted drifting miles out to sea on Saturday 16 April.

The UNHCR is still in the process of verifying the survivors’ accounts, and no official statement has been made.

But according to an update coming out of Greece on Thursday afternoon, the survivors described a tragedy on a scale not seen in the Mediterranean for a year, when more than 800 were feared dead when a boat sank off Libya on 19 April 2015.

The survivors were mostly among a group of 100 to 200 people who departed from near Tobruk, Libya, on an unseaworthy vessel.

They told the UNHCR smugglers then took them to a larger, near-full fishing vessel. The second boat could not take the weight of numbers and, the survivors said, sank due to overcrowding while it was being loaded with more people.

Those who spoke to the UNHCR said they had either yet to board the larger vessel, or were able to swim back as it sank. They estimated up to 500 lives were lost in the incident, with those involved mostly from Somalia, Sudan, Ethiopia and Egypt.

Many details, including the specific date of the incident, remain unclear. It is possible that the larger vessel had departed from Egypt, as was suggested in reported earlier in the week.

The UNHCR said its investigation into the incident continued, and further updates would be posted on its website.

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