Search in Mediterranean for 73 migrants feared dead
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Last Updated: Friday, August 21, 2009, 20:53
Rome: Italian coastguards searched the Mediterranean Sea today for the bodies of 73 migrants from Eritrea feared dead from hunger and thirst whilst trying to reach Europe from North Africa.

They began looking for the missing after five other migrants -- rescued the day before off Lampedusa island -- said they had perished during the voyage and that their bodies had been dumped at sea.

"Searches are underway, but for the moment we have recovered no bodies," an official with the Guardia de Finanza (customs) coastguard service in Lampedusa told.

The emaciated survivors said their small 12-metre boat -- which set off from Libya -- had been adrift without fuel for 20 days, and that they received no help from several passing vessels.

"As if fear were more important than the duty to help others at sea," said UN High Commissioner for Refugees spokeswoman Laura Boldrini, describing the reported failure to help as "alarming."

The disappearances reignited a furore against Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's anti-immigration policies, including a May deal with Tripoli aimed at preventing migrants headed for Europe from using Libya as a springboard.

"The fight against illegal immigration is one thing, but the lack of respect for human rights is another," said Dario Franceschini, leader of the opposition Democratic Party.

Bureau Report

First Published: Friday, August 21, 2009, 20:53

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