Doomed sea crossing survivors describe Mediterranean ordeal

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Risking their lives to reach Europe from North Africa, a boatload of people, some of them likely in need of international protection, are rescued in the Mediterranean Sea by the Italian Navy. Photo: UNHCR/A. D'Amato (File Photo)

Survivors of possibly one of the worst tragedies at sea in the last 12 months in which 500 people are believed to have drowned have begun sharing their tale, the UN Refugee Agency UNHCR said Wednesday.

Just 41 people were rescued by a merchant ship after a large ship went down in the Mediterranean last week.

They described being part of a larger group which had set out from the Libyan coast for Italy, and being forced to board a larger boat which capsized and sank.

Here's Daniel Johnson in Geneva:

Details are emerging of the ordeal endured by those involved in the doomed attempt to cross the Mediterranean from eastern Libya to Italy.

According to the UN Refugee Agency team that interviewed the 41 survivors, they had set out from near Tobruk in Libya on a 30-metre boat with [between] 100 to 200 others, possibly in the middle of last week.

After sailing for several hours, smugglers ordered the passengers onto a larger ship that was already carrying hundreds of people.

During the transfer, the larger boat capsized and sank.

Here's William Spindler from the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR:

"The survivors are obviously very shaken by what they saw. Some of them saw their relatives dying in front of their eyes. They have gone through a terrible ordeal."

The survivors – 37 men, three women and a three-year-old child – drifted at sea for possibly three days before they were rescued and taken to Kalamata in Greece.

The accident comes a year after the worst incident at sea involving migrants, when 700 lost their lives off Libya.

To date, UN-partner IOM says that nearly 180,000 people have made crossed by sea to Europe from Africa or Turkey so far this year, with 737 confirmed dead or missing.

Daniel Johnson, United Nations, Geneva.

Duration: 1’16″

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