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Last Updated: Thursday, 19 June, 2003, 15:08 GMT 16:08 UK
African deaths in Libya's desert
Immigration camp in the Sahara
Hundreds of immigrants die while crossing the Sahara desert

The Libyan authorities have denied knowledge of reports that some 200 Ghanaians have died trying to cross the Sahara desert in Libya this year.

The Ghanaian Daily Graphic newspaper on Thursday quoted the Ghanaian ambassador to Libya as saying his countrymen died as they were attempting to cross the desert in search of greener pastures in Europe.

"It is usually a pathetic and horrific scene to find some of these persons dehydrated and weak"
Mr George Kumi
Ghanaian ambassador to Libya
Mr Kumi said that the deaths occurred between January and the beginning of June this year, due to extreme dehydration and general fatigue precipitated by the harsh weather conditions in the desert.

But speaking to BBC News Online on Thursday, an official in the Ministry of African Affairs in Tripoli denied any knowledge of such deaths in the desert.

Not recorded

According to Mr Kumi, the death toll could even be higher as "most deaths of Ghanaians who die on the desert and in the Mediterranean Sea are not recorded".

The Ghanaian ambassador said that the Ghana Mission in Tripoli has had to organise search and rescue operations to save some Ghanaians stranded on the desert.

Ghanaians trek across three countries before risking an overcrowded boat

"It is usually a pathetic and horrific scene to find some of these persons dehydrated, weak and helpless and on the verge of death after trekking for more than 300 kilometres on the desert," Mr Kumi complained.

However those rescued usually refuse to go back to Ghana.

Agents

The Ghanaian ambassador said there are about 25,000 Ghanaians resident in Libya, with a sizeable number of them working to raise funds for their boat trip across the Mediterranean sea to Europe.

He said many innocent Ghanaians are conned by "so called travel agents in Ghana into believing that they can easily reach Europe through Libya".

The agents convey the desperate Ghanaians to Niger through Burkina Faso and either abandon them after receiving their payment, or advise them to walk to Libya reassuring them that it is only few kilometres away, he explained.

Border control

Sources in the Libyan Information Department in Tripoli have told BBC News Online that they are aware of the ambassador's concerns about the plight of Ghanaian illegal immigrants in the country.

They say that the Libyan government is doing its best to control all illegal immigrants at border points, but Libya is such a vast country that it is difficult to monitor their movements.

"This is an international problem that demands international efforts," the official said.

Bodies recovered

Meanwhile, it has been reported that some 100 illegal immigrants were rescued by fishermen when their wooden vessel capsized Wednesday in international waters, some 100 miles south of Lampedusa, an island between Libya and Sicily.

This is a second rescue operation in the area within a week after an estimated 70 people were believed to have drowned off the Lampedusa coast on Monday.

Colonel Gaddafi
Authorities deny any knowledge of Ghanaian desert deaths

So far only seven bodies have been recovered.

The Italian Government has just approved new measures for dealing with the constant flow of illegal immigrants arriving by sea.

The law, dubbed the anti-landings decree, a reference to the almost daily arrival of boats carrying immigrants on Italian shores allows a set up of a single command centre for the various forces.

The navy will patrol international waters, the coastguard will be used primarily for rescue operations and the financial police will have new powers to board suspect vessels and if possible, send the boats back to the port of origin.

However, our correspondent says that the cabinet has reiterated that force will not be used.




SEE ALSO:
Mali's dangerous desert gateway
25 Jun 02  |  Africa
Libyan immigration trial begins
24 Jan 01  |  Africa


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