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300 feared dead in Italy migrant boat disaster

Update: October, 04/2013 - 10:46

LAMPEDUSA – Three hundred people were feared dead on Thursday after a boat carrying up to 500 African asylum seekers caught fire and sank off Italian shores in the worst recent refugee disaster in the Mediterranean.

Rescuers and local fishermen were overcome with emotion as they spoke of chaotic early morning scenes in the water off the Italian island of Lampedusa, with "a sea of heads" as desperate refugees waved their arms and screamed.

There were also stories of survival such as a young Eritrean woman thought dead and laid out with other corpses before medical personnel realised she was still breathing and revived her.

A UN official blamed a repressive policy towards illegal immigrants for the tragedy, while UN chief Ban Ki-moon said he hoped the disaster would be a "spur to action" to protecting migrants' rights, and improving the public perception of immigrants.AFP

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