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 Sunday, 19 January, 2003, 18:17 GMT
Migrants die trying to reach Europe
Moroccan immigrants on helicopter
Thousands of migrants try to reach Europe every year
At least 16 people have drowned while trying to enter Spain illegally in an inflatable boat, say Moroccan police.

The boat is reported to have sunk in bad weather near the Moroccan port of Tangiers, while trying to cross the Straits of Gibraltar.

A boat full of Moroccan migrants, as seen from a helicopter
Many of the boats used by migrants are unsafe
Morocco's official news agency MAP said three people - two of them Moroccans - were rescued in a major operation involving the Moroccan police and coast guards.

In a separate incident, six migrants have been found dead off the coast of southern Italy.

Italian maritime authorities said six others on the boat were still alive when a Russian merchant ship encountered the vessel in the Ionian Sea, 48 kilometres (30 miles) from the port of Santa Maria de Leuca.

Rough weather

Moroccan police were unable to say how many people had been aboard the vessel found off Tangiers, but the victims are predominantly from sub-Saharan Africa.

A police spokesman told Reuters news agency that the migrants had been spotted by an army patrol early on Friday morning, on the Foret Diplomatique beach 17 kilometres ( 11 miles) south of Tangiers.

Realising they had been seen, some of the group fled inland but most scrambled on to the boat and took to sea despite bad weather conditions, the spokesman said.

The migrants had paid traffickers between 5,000 and 10,000 dirhams (500 and 1,000 euros) to make the journey, MAP said.

Seeking asylum

The boat found off the coast of Italy is thought to be one which set sail from Greece on 16 January, with about 30 migrants on board.

Up to 20 passengers are therefore unaccounted for, and have been classed as missing.

Thousands of migrants try to enter Europe every year through countries which border the Mediterranean.

Most use single-engine boats to attempt the dangerous sea passage.

Others try to cross the border overland, hiding in the back of trucks.

The Moroccan authorities alone say they have arrested more than 2,500 illegal immigrants in the last year.


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