A number of children and pregnant women were among the 240 people reported to have drowned off the coast of Libya while attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea this week, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said, quoted by the UN News Centre on November 4.
In a news release, UNICEF’s Helena Rodriguez, a gynaecologist and cultural mediator (an interpreter of cultural needs and practices) working with Italian health workers to assist rescued from the sea spoke of the loss and suffering of the survivors brought to the Italian island of Lampedusa yesterday.
“It is an awful situation here,” said Rodriguez.
Speaking, in particular, of the anguish of a young Liberian woman who lost her two-year-old son, 13-year-old daughter and 21-year-old brother – all of whom drowned when their boat capsized, the UNICEF official said:
“The tragedy has left this young woman in a state of deep shock after she saw her children and her young brother drown in front of her.”
“Even though she had paid smugglers $2400 for her family to make the crossing from Libya to Italy, when she and others saw the completely unseaworthy boat, they refused to get in because they were afraid. But the smugglers shot at them and forced them to go. This is why so many people drowned just 12 km from the Libyan shore,” she added.The Liberian woman, one of 29 survivors brought to the island, is also suffering from acute pneumonia.
According to UNICEF, two other women who were saved by the same Norwegian rescue vessel also lost their children at sea. Most of the victims were from Senegal, Liberia, Guinea, and Nigeria.
Additionally, the UN agency noted that those rescued were in difficult physical and psychological condition upon arrival – with some in a coma and others suffering from severe burns due to exposure to engine fuel.
It added that 2016 is set to be the deadliest year on record for the Mediterranean with more than 4200 refugees and migrants having died attempting the dangerous journey across the sea. Nearly 160 000 have arrived to Italy by sea so far this year.
(Photo: Refugees and migrants disembark a Spanish coast guard vessel at the port of Palermo, Sicily, Italy on 13 May 2016. In 2015, Italy received 150,000 asylum-seekers, and the country is on track to receive a higher number in 2016. UNICEF/Ashley Gilbertson VII)