African refugees reach Lampedusa after 24-hour journey

A fishing boat from Libya crammed with 166 shivering passengers, all of them apparently migrants from sub-Saharan Africa, arrived on the island of Lampedusa at around 10am today.

Italian coast guard officers and rescue workers helped offload the passengers, wrapping an infant in a metallic blanket and taking at least one man away on a stretcher. The passengers left behind husks of bread, soggy blankets, and fluorescent life jackets, scattered in the hull of the boat.

"I still have the trauma inside me. Because of the cold, the water. Because I've never tried this before in my life," said a 21-year old man from Sierra Leone who only gave his first name Abubakr.

The boat departed from the Libyan capital of Tripoli on Thursday morning and successfully reached Lampedusa after perilous 24-hour journey.

"The sea is really difficult. Some people were in coma, as for me I vomited so much," said 26-year old Ibrahim Cooper, also from Sierra Leone.

Despite reports that a similar ship sank off the coast of Libya, killing at least 16 migrants, more than 30,000 migrants and refugees from Tunisia and Libya have risked this dangerous journey to Lampedusa since last February.

"We expect four more boats today," said Laura Boldrini, a spokeswoman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Late Thursday night, Italian authorities were tracking one boat from Libya carrying 220 migrants that was said to be leaking. That vessel is believed to now be in the territorial waters of Malta.

Passengers onboard this morning's boat said they made the journey to escape the fighting in Libya. "It's a war situation now," Abubakr said. "Anything can happen. That's why we have to run for our lives. Because we are blacks. We are not secure in that country."

Cooper huddled on the pavement of the port, eating a biscuit distributed by Italian emergency workers. "We are now refugees in Italy," Cooper said. "The Italian government and the EU should do something to help us."

The armada of leaky boats full of migrants that have flooded Lampedusa over the past three months has become a hot-button political issue both in Italy and the European Union.

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