The United Nations refugee agency has thanked the Italian navy for rescuing a
boat that had been in distress in the Mediterranean Sea for two days, the first
vessel originating from Libya that has arrived in Europe since mid-August.
According to the UN High Commissioner for
Refugees (UNHCR), the boat was carrying 44 people, mostly sub-Saharans.
Relatives of some of the passengers onboard sent out distress calls from a
satellite phone in the Mediterranean Sea on Tuesday evening.
A full 48 hours later, the boat was rescued by an Italian military vessel last
“UNHCR is grateful that the Italian navy took this initiative despite the fact
that the boat was in Maltese search and rescue waters,” spokesperson Adrian
Edwards told reporters in Geneva.
He said the delay in rescuing the boat led to huge risks to the lives of the
people onboard, including drowning, dehydration and exposure.
A woman with a small baby was evacuated by helicopter to Sicily from the Italian
island of Lampedusa, Mr. Edwards added.
UNHCR had estimated that, as of mid-August, some 52,000 people had arrived in
Italy since the unrest in North Africa began earlier this year – 27,000 of them
departed from Libya and the rest from Tunisia.
Hundreds of people have also lost their lives attempting to reach Italy’s
shores. At the start of June at least 150 people who fled Libya drowned in one
of the year’s deadliest boat incidents in the Mediterranean.