Nine drown after refugee boat sinks
From correspondents in Tunis
Herald Sun
30 June 2003

NINE people drowned today when a ship carrying illegal immigrants of various nationalities sank off Tunisia's northeast coast, witnesses said.

Earlier reports had spoken of at least three dead in the incident off the fishing port of Sidi Daoud, on Tunisia's northeastern coast, about 200 km from Italy. Six bodies had been pulled onto the beach, and three others were found later, a witness told AFP by telephone. They were taken to a hospital in the area.

Coast guards and the navy rescued 35 people from the vessel, which went down early today, and were searching for more survivors, the official TAP news agency said.

It was not immediately known how many people had been on the vessel.

Boatloads of poor illegal immigrants from sub-Saharan and north Africa, eager to start new lives in the wealthy European Union, regularly depart Libyan and Tunisian coasts headed for nearby Italy.

On June 20, a boat packed with hundreds of African would-be immigrants sank off the city of Sfax on Tunisia's eastern coast, with only 41 of about 250 on board believed to have survived.

Among the survivors -- from Egypt, Ghana, Liberia, Mali, Morocco, Somalia and Tunisia -- several said they had paid Libyan smugglers for their passage.

Italy has seen about 1,000 illegal immigrants arrive on its shores since the middle of the month, despite a new immigration law passed last July allowing people without proper immigration papers caught on Italian soil to be deported, and to be jailed if they try to get to Italy again.

Rome has also negotiated agreements with countries of departure, such as Tunisia, and was said to be holding talks on the matter with Libya.

More than 5,200 people arrived in Italy by boat this year by June 11, compared with 10,300 in the same period last year, interior ministry data said.


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