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Migrants 'fleeing Libya' drown off coast
Bodies of some 70 Eritrean asylum seekers fleeing the conflict are reported to have been found off the coast.
Last Modified: 03 Apr 2011 21:20
Thousand of migrant workers have found themselves stranded by their governments during the Libyan conflict [EPA]

The bodies of 70 people believed to be asylum seekers have reportedly been found off the coast of Libya.

The head of the Jesuit Refugee service in Malta said the victims were Eritreans trying to flee the conflict in Libya in a small boat.

Malta-based journalist Karl Stagno-Navarra said migrants fleeing Libya are helpless, homeless and fear for their lives.

"These are sub-Saharan refugees who have been trapped in Libya for quite some time," he told Al Jazeera.

"Worse, now that they have been trapped in a serious civil war in which they find themselves either targeted because they are mistaken for mercenaries or else they have no government to pull them out."

While many wealthier countries evacuated their nationals from Libya early on in the conflict, some governments have not offered any support to their citizens.

"They have been left there with no food and no resources whatsoever, so now they are attempting to leave Libya at all costs," he said.

Flow of migrants

The flow of asylum seekers from Libya and Tunisia has put pressure on migrant centres in southern Europe, especially in Italy.

The Italian government sent police armed with armlets and shields, as well as patrolling helicopters, to the island of Lampedusa on Saturday.

The Italian island is facing overcrowding and local residents have said they might protest if the situation is not kept under control.

Migrants are being evacuated to centres elsewhere in Italy, but progress of the evacuation has not been fast enough to ease the pressure on the overcrowded island.

According to a report from Italian police, two ships left Libya with more refugees about one week ago, and are expected to arrive in Lampedusa on Sunday or Monday.

Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian prime minister, and Roberto Maroni, the interior minister, will pay a state visit to Tunisia on Monday, to urge the Tunisian government to strengthen the coastline guard to stem the flow.

At least 160,000 migrants fleeing the conflict in Libya are now living in neighbouring Tunisia.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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