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Somalia, Eritrea mourn migrant boat tragedy off Italy

Saturday, October 05, 2013

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Somalia and Eritrea offered condolences Saturday for the hundreds of their citizens feared drowned in the tragic sinking of a boat crammed with asylum-seekers off the Italian coast.

So far, 111 African asylum-seekers have been confirmed dead but scores more are missing.

Many of the victims are believed to be from Somalia -- riven by over two decades of war, as well as recent famine and drought -- as well as from Eritrea, where thousands flee a repressive government and seek jobs abroad.

Somali Prime Minister Abdi Farah Shirdon thanked Italy's coastguard, saying there was "no doubt their swift response helped prevent further loss of lives".

"I would like to extend my sincere condolences to those who lost loved ones and friends in this tragic accident," Shirdon said in a statement.

"As a government we must continue to build on the achievements already made to make Somalia a secure, stable and attractive place to live, so that those young people who are fleeing their country will stay and take part in rebuilding their country."

Eritrea's state-run media makes no mention of the tragedy, but Foreign Minister Osman Saleh Mohammed, in a speech to a United Nations meeting on migration in New York, offered his "condolences to the families of the victims" of the "tragic and sad incident".

The United Nations refugee agency estimates as many as 3,000 Eritreans flood into Sudan and Ethiopia every month from Eritrea, a country of some five million people and about the size of England.

Many are running from open-ended military conscription imposed by the autocratic and isolated government of the Red Sea state.

Impoverished Somalia spiralled into repeated rounds of bloody civil war beginning in 1991, allowing piracy, militia armies and extremist rebels to flourish.

Last year an internationally-backed government took power in Mogadishu, defended by a 17,700-strong African Union force which is battling Al-Qaeda linked Islamist insurgents, but its control beyond the capital remains fragile at best.

More than a million Somalis are refugees in neighbouring nations.

Many settle in refugee camps in neighbouring nations, but others risk the dangerous road onwards towards Europe.


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