African refugees die as Libya boat sinks

May 10, 2011 at 10:35 AM
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TRIPOLI, Libya, May 10 (UPI) -- Fifty-four Somalis fleeing the Libyan war are believed dead after an crowded boat capsized off Tripoli, the Somali ambassador said Tuesday.

Ambassador Abdelghani Mohamed Oweys told CNN the boat that capsized Friday was carrying more than 600 Arab and African refugees, including 240 Somalis.

Refugees who landed on the Italian island of Lampedusa Saturday on other boats reported seeing hundreds cast into the water, said Laura Boldrini, spokeswoman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees in Italy.

Boldrini said 16 bodies were pulled out of the Tripoli harbor but the number of dead is not known.

"Refugees are not considered at all as humans," she said. "Trips are organized on unlikely vessels, and they leave Libya without considering the weather forecast."

Since the end of March, two vessels sailing from Libya have disappeared -- one carrying 320 people and the other 160, Boldrini said. She also noted "a shipwreck on April 4, where 250 people died."

Some refugees told the International Organization for Migration in Lampedusa that Libyan soldiers forced them onto boats at gunpoint and stole their possessions.

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