The Mercury

250 refugees missing at sea

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TUNIS: About 250 people were missing in the Mediterran­ean after the vessels carrying them illegally to Europe got into difficulty off the Tunisian coast, a security official said.

Tunisian coastguard­s and military personnel rescued 570 people, but many others went into the water when a stampede to get off the small fishing boats – combined with the rough seas – capsized some of the vessels, the official said.

“About 250 people are missing,” said the official from the southern Tunisian port of Sfax. “We haven’t found a single body so far.

“Five hundred and seventy people have been rescued. Most of them are in good health and they are in the military barracks in Sfax and some are in hospital. Three have died,” he said.

“They are all of African nationalit­ies and they were on small fishing boats.”

The boats encountere­d problems on Tuesday about 20km off the Tunisian island of Kerkennah. They were carrying refugees who were fleeing the violence in Libya.

Thousands of people fleeing upheavals in North Africa have been heading to Italy on rickety boats recently, creating an immigratio­n crisis on Lampedusa, an Italian island. – Reuters

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