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Press Centre (11/2016)

Children and pregnant women among those lost at sea in latest tragedy on the Mediterranean - UNICEF


Migrants disembark a coast guard vessel at the port of Palermo. Italy received 150,000 asylum seekers in 2015 is on track to receive more in 2016. Photo Credit: © UNICEF/UN020000/Gilbertson VII
LAMPEDUSA, Italy, 3 November 2016 – A number of children and pregnant women were among the 240 people reported to have drowned off the coast of Libya Wednesday attempting to reach European shores. 

A young Liberian woman, one of 29 survivors brought to the island of Lampedusa earlier today, lost her two-year-old son, 13-year-old daughter and 21-year-old brother – all of whom drowned when their boat capsized. UNICEF’s Helena Rodriguez, a gynaecologist and cultural mediator* on Lampedusa, is working with Italian health workers to treat the 31-year-old woman for acute pneumonia and shock.
 
“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,” said Rodriguez. “Even though she had paid smugglers $2,400 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.”
 
Rodriguez, who was at the pier to assist survivors in the early hours of Thursday morning, said those rescued from the sea 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 is an awful situation here,” she said.
 
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.
 
2016 is set to be the deadliest year on record for the Mediterranean with more than 4,200 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.
 
*Footnote: cultural mediators work as interpreters of cultural needs and practices
 
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For more information please contact: 
Sema Hosta, UNICEF in Turkey, + 90 312 454 1010, shosta@unicef.org
Sarah Crowe, Spokesperson, UNICEF Geneva, scrowe@unicef.org
Christopher Tidey, UNICEF New York, +1 917 340 3017, ctidey@unicef.org
UNICEF Turkey Country Office, Yukarı Dikmen Mah. Alexsander Dubçek Cd. 7/106, 06450 Çankaya/Ankara. Telephone: +90 312 454 1000 Fax: +90 312 496 1461 E-mail: ankara@unicef.org