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Thursday, January 1, 1998 Published at 22:19 GMT



World: Europe

Kurdish refugees abandoned by ship's crew
image: [ The refugees were taken ashore after being at sea for about 10 days ]
The refugees were taken ashore after being at sea for about 10 days

A group of several hundred refugees have been rescued and taken to the Italian port of Otranto on New Year's Day after their vessel was found drifting near the harbour.

The refugees - mainly Kurds - said the captain and crew abandoned ship in a lifeboat after the vessel was spotted by Italian aircraft.

In addition to Kurds, the ship was carrying people from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Algeria.


[ image: Italy received 5,500 illegal immigrants by boat in 1997]
Italy received 5,500 illegal immigrants by boat in 1997
Forty-eight people were initially brought ashore from the ship, Cometa, which was towed into safer waters and is now lying at anchor 400m offshore.

Women and children, including a new-born baby were taken to a church shelter at Melendugno, about 30 km (20 miles) from Otranto.

About 100 men were left on board to wait for a tug boat to tow the Cometa to shore.


David Willey: "Only bread and water during the voyage" (Dur: 0' 32")
The refugees said they had been at sea for eight to 10 days and that all their possessions and food had been stolen from them during a stopover in Albania.

The incident comes just a day after President Oscar Luigi Scalfaro said in his New Year's Eve speech that Italy's doors were "wide open" to people "living with persecution."

Most of the Kurdish immigrants are fleeing southeastern Turkey, where the government's 13-year war with Kurdish guerrillas has ravaged the economy, emptied scores of villages and killed nearly 37,000 people.


[ image: Women and children were taken to a church shelter]
Women and children were taken to a church shelter
The Cometa boatload of illegal immigrants added to the thousands that have landed there this year, especially over the last two months.

The largest group - of 831 immigrants including 644 Kurds from Turkey and Iraq - arrived on Saturday in the vessel Ararat.

Italy's open southern coast and relatively lax immigration laws have earned it a reputation as an accessible gateway into Europe for Kurds and others.

Italy received 5,500 illegal immigrants by boat in 1997 - excluding the dozens of small groups of refugees who used small boats to land on the Adriatic coast and on Sicily.

More than 3,000 of the total 5,500 immigrants either came from Turkey, or were passengers in Turkish boats.

Many others were Albanian immigrants fleeing financial and political crisis in their country who were sent back to Albania when the situation improved

Thousands more Kurdish refugees are waiting to sail for western European countries on tramp steamers, according to the Kurdish Liberation Front's European office.
 





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