Tragedy at Sea: UNHCR Reports 1000 Possibly Dead After Being Forced Out of Libya

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In an interview on May 11th with CNN, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees voiced strong concern and an appeal for international support for the refugees fleeing violence in Libya: “We are witnessing a humanitarian tragedy, with now more than one thousand people possibly dead.”

A boat carrying around 600 people foundered not long after leaving the Libyan capital of Tripoli Friday, May 6th. UNHCR is receiving eyewitness reports from those who survived crossing the Mediterranean that African migrant workers are being forced onto overcrowded, unsafe vessels to face an uncertain fate on the sea.

By May 7th, refugees who safely crossed the Mediterranean and arrived in Lampedusa described seeing hundreds of people thrown into the water from the capsized boat, according to Laura Boldrini, UNHCR Spokesperson.

Boldrini stated, “From what refugees are telling us, the Libyan authorities are facilitating the departures of non-Libyan citizens from Libyan coasts. Refugees are not considered at all as humans. Trips are organized on unlikely vessels, and they leave Libya without considering the weather forecast.”

"Since the end of March, two vessels departing from Libya have disappeared -- one carrying 320 people and the other 160. In addition, we know of a shipwreck on April 4, where 250 people died," Boldrini added.

According to the Washington Post, A spokesman for Moammar Gadhafi suggested that increased illegal immigration was the price European nations would pay for their military and political support of the rebels trying to topple Libya’s strongman.”

In the CNN interview, the High Commissioner Antonio Guterres reiterated his appeal for Europe to receive, protect, and find a solution for refugees who manage to cross the Mediterranean. “We are encouraged by the fact that many countries, namely Malta and Italy, have been receiving those refugees and trying to rescue them at sea.”

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees is calling on the international community to aid refugees fleeing Libya. “It is our shared obligation to be sensitive to the plight of these refugees and share the burden with Tunisia and Egypt. “

Tunisia and Egypt alone have received 750,000 refugees, while facing their own difficulties after recent uprisings. Over 3000 refugees, mostly from Somalia and Eritrea, are stranded at the Libyan borders with Egypt and Tunisia. Due to conflict within their home countries, they do not have a place to go.

“It is absolutely essential for us to increase the number of resettlement opportunities in the developed world for us to be able to find a solution for their plight. “ 

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