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Saturday 3 December 2016

Men describe surviving Mediterranean migrant boat tragedy

Published 21/04/2016 | 10:51

Migrants and refugees line up for food at a makeshift camp at the northern Greek border point of Idomeni (AP)
Migrants and refugees line up for food at a makeshift camp at the northern Greek border point of Idomeni (AP)

Two men who were among 41 people picked up over the weekend from a boat found adrift in the Mediterranean Sea have described surviving what they say was a sinking that might have killed up to 500 people.

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Muaz Mahmud Aymo, a 25-year-old Ethiopian, and Mowlid Isman, a 28-year-old Somali, said they had been heading to Italy, leaving the Libyan port city of Tobruk on a boat with about 200 people on board.

They said smugglers forced them on to a larger boat, which they said had about 300 people on board although it was dark and they could not see inside. The larger boat sank, they said.

Mr Aymo said he lost his two-year-old baby and 20-year-old wife in the sinking, while Mr Isman said his sister and her baby also died.

Their account of the tragedy comes as Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg said that efforts to stem the tide of migrants seeking the shores of Europe are working.

Speaking at a news conference with Turkish foreign affairs minister Mevlut Cavusoglu in Ankara, Mr Stoltenberg said the collective effort is "making a difference" and that the number of migrants crossing the Aegean Sea is "going significantly down".

Under an EU-Turkey deal signed last month, migrants arriving on Greek islands from the Turkish coast from March 20 onwards face deportation to Turkey unless they successfully apply for asylum in Greece.

Mr Stoltenberg said Turkey, based on information that Nato provides, is "taking action to help break the business model of traffickers".

But he warned the fight against trafficking requires "flexibility" as smugglers can "shift their routes rapidly".

The migrant crisis demonstrates how urgent it is to find a solution to the Syrian conflict, Mr Stoltenberg added.

Turkey, which borders Syria, is home to 2.7 million Syrian refugees.

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