Boat tragedy kills 82 African migrants off the Italian coastListen /
At least 82 people have died after a boat carrying African migrants sank off the southern Italian island of Lampedusa, according to the UN Refugee agency (UNHCR).
The boat which originated from Libya is reported to have been carrying over 500 migrants, mainly from Eritrea.
UNHCR says the boat caught fire, half a mile from the coast.
More than 140 migrants have been rescued, but hundreds are missing.
Adrian Edwards is the UNHCR Spokesperson in Geneva.
"The coast guard is telling us that there are between 400 and 500 people on the boat. There is still a large number missing at this point. Certainly this does look like yet another tragedy on the Mediterranean, but in terms of potential numbers it is really shocking. As we understand it, the passengers seem to be from Eritrea. Eritrea is one of three countries we've seen people coming from across the Mediterranean this year. We had large numbers of people moving from Syria on one hand, Eritrea on the other hand. This adds up to some 32,000 arrivals by sea in Italy and Malta just in the months between January and September of this year. It shows that this part of the world, the Mediterranean, remains a very very major route for sea crossing by migrants and people seeking asylum."
Thursday’s incident was the second boat disaster this week off Italy’s coast. Thirteen men drowned off the southern coast of Italy on Monday when they attempted to swim ashore from a foundering vessel.
Patrick Maigua, United Nations Radio, Geneva.