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13.07.2005 Diaspora News

Ghana, Six Others feared drowned

The Times of Malta

Seven illegal immigrants are believed to have drowned in rough seas 70 nautical miles south of Malta on Monday, as the Armed Forces called off its search and rescue operation yesterday morning, 18 hours after it started.

Sixteen survivors - 15 men and one woman - were brought to Malta on board an armed forces patrol boat early yesterday morning, sealing another tragic attempted crossing from Africa to Europe.

Sources told The Times that 23 immigrants were on board the boat, similar to the boatloads reaching the island over the past few weeks.

The missing migrants, including one woman, are believed to be from Ghana, Liberia, Nigeria and Sudan.

Until yesterday evening, both the police and the armed forces were refusing to state officially how many immigrants had perished when their boat capsized in unusually stormy seas on Monday.

A Portuguese tug-boat which was in the vicinity of the incident picked up 13 survivors shortly after the boat capsized.

Three individuals who could not be rescued were forced to remain in the water until an AFM Alouette helicopter arrived on the scene and winched them aboard. They were taken to hospital and were discharged later.

The survivors claimed their countries of origin were Nigeria, Ghana and Sudan. Immigration police are carrying out the investigations to establish their identity and nationality.

The AFM confirmed that the rescue operation was halted at 8 a.m., 18 hours after the Rescue Co-ordination Centre was notified that a boatload of irregular immigrants had capsized. Rescue operations were hampered by force six and seven winds, whipping up huge waves across the Mediterranean.

Jesuit Refugee Service spokesman Maria Schranz said the incident confirmed the tragedy of irregular migration.

"I challenge people who still believe that these people are prepared to take the journey on rickety boats just for kicks. People need to take a step back and see why these people left in the first place. These people are risking life and limb."

Ms Schranz urged everybody to reflect before using the term "economic migrants" to describe many of the asylum seekers reaching Malta.

The recent Make Poverty History campaign should have made it clear to all and sundry that most African countries were still in dire straits, with famine and wars still raging, she said.