The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR, Antonio Guterres, has expressed shock over the death of 82 Africans in a boat mishap off the coast of the Italian Island of Lampedusa.
This is contained in a statement he issued on the disaster in New York on Thursday.
Guterres commended the swift action taken by the Italian Coast Guard to save lives and decried the rising global phenomenon of migrants and people fleeing conflict or persecution and perishing at sea.
He said of the estimated 500 passengers on the boat believed to be Eritreans only 147 had been rescued so far.
The boat, which originated from Libya, caught fire half a mile from the coast, on Thursday.
Media reports suggest that there are still some 200 passengers that are unaccounted for.
The UNHCR said it was actively engaging countries in the region to provide alternatives for people resorting to taking the dangerous journeys so they do not have to risk their lives.
“Today’s (Thursday) incident is the second boat disaster this week off Italy’s coast,” the UN chief said.
Thirteen men drowned off the southern coast of Italy on Monday when they attempted to swim ashore from a troubled vessel.