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Italy Searches For African Migrants After Boat Sinks In Mediterranean

An Italian navy photo from March, showing a migrant boat from North Africa intercepted off the coast of Sicily.
An Italian navy photo from March, showing a migrant boat from North Africa intercepted off the coast of Sicily.

A boat carrying migrants from North Africa sank off the coast of Libya on Monday, killing at least 14 people a day after dozens were drowned in a similar incident.

The sinkings are just the latest in a long series of such accidents amid an exodus of would-be illegal immigrants from North Africa trying to reach EU shores.

Monday's accident occurred about 100 miles south of the Sicilian island of Lampedusa, a common destination for migrants trying to enter the European Union illegally because of its relative nearness to the African coast.

In Monday's incident, at least 14 are reported dead and 200 have been rescued by the Italian navy. In a similar episode on Sunday, at least 36 bodies had been recovered along with 52 survivors; 54 are still missing.

As The Associated Press notes, the incident "is the latest in a string of tragedies in the Mediterranean sea involving migrants who embark on perilous journeys in overloaded or unseaworthy boats." In February, we reported on one such case in which more than 1,000 migrants were intercepted trying to reach Lampedusa in inflatable boats.

The AP says:

"At least 232 people perished in the fiery capsizing of a smuggler's trawler near Lampedusa last fall. Only 155 people survived that capsizing.

"In the past week alone, more than 4,000 migrants have reached Italy's shores, arriving in smugglers' boats. Many of the boats set out from Libya's loosely patrolled coast with migrants who are fleeing wars or hardship in Syria, Eritrea and elsewhere.

"Italy says it can no longer afford the costs of rescuing, feeding and sheltering the steady stream of arrivals and wants the rest of the European Union to do more. Northern neighbors like Germany retort that they already take in far more asylum seekers than Italy does."

In the first nine months of last year, more than 30,000 North African migrants reached Italy by boat, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reported. Those included about 7,500 each from Syria and Eritrea and 3,000 from Somalia.

At the time of that report in October the BBC said, "Lampedusa is overburdened with migrants — the island's normal population is just 6,000 and its migrant reception centre has a capacity of just 250."

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Scott Neuman is a reporter and editor, working mainly on breaking news for NPR's digital and radio platforms.