By Tom Westcott.
Tripoli, 14 October 2013:
Survivors of a doomed migrant vessel which capsized on Friday leaving at least 34 . . .[restrict]people dead have claimed their boat was shot at by armed Libyans.
A Palestinian refugee told the BBC that, after the boat set sail on in the early hours of Friday morning, Libyans pursued the vessel firing shots in the air. When the vessel entered Italian waters, he said, they started shooting at the migrants.
They killed two of the skippers and a female migrant before opening fire on the vessel itself, the refugee said. Shots pierced the hull and the engine room, he said, causing the boat to take on water.
Some 50 migrants are believed to have perished and there are 206 survivors.
The shots were reportedly fired by Libyans who “did not look official” and may have been militiamen, according to Maltese media sources. The Libyan Navy has strongly denied any suggestion that the Libyan coastguard were involved.
“We deny this completely,” Navy Spokesman Ayob Ghasem told the Libya Herald. “None of our boats were in that area at that time.”
The migrants were Syrian and Palestinian refugees who had reportedly paid between $1,000 and $4,000 dollars each to make the illegal crossing. One survivor said the deteriorating situation for refugees in Libya forced them to try to reach Europe. Libyan culture was very different to Syria’s, he said, saying that the situation was becoming worse.
In February this year, the UN refugee agency UNCHR said there were 4,716 Syrian refugees in Libya. Syrian community sources, however, estimated that the actual number was more than 110,000 refugees.
The head of one of Tripoli illegal immigration units, Abdul Razag Al-Gerjame, told the Libya Herald that thousands of Syrians entered illegally through the Egypt-Libya Emsaid border crossing. The illegal immigration department at the border simply could not cope with the number of people, he added. [/restrict]