Dhaka, March 7 (IANS) Three Bangladeshis from Libya have drowned after they tried to flee a rescue ship docked at the Greek island of Crete in an apparent bid to avoid being sent back home, a media report said Monday.
There were about 1,280 people on board the Cyprus-flagged Ionian King when the incident took place Sunday. The vessel was docked at Souda Bay.
Dozens of other evacuees from Libya also tried to flee the vessel but it was ‘unclear’ why they were doing so.
The Daily Star quoting officials said they were probably trying to avoid being sent back home. Fifteen people are missing and 18 others were hospitalised after the incident, the report said.
“In an apparent attempt to avoid being sent home on arrival in Crete, they used a rope to lower themselves from the Cypriot-flagged ship into the sea at night,” the newspaper said quoting Greece authorities.
The ship had sailed with 1,288 evacuees from Libyan capital Tripoli. Most of the evacuees are Bangladeshi workers fleeing the fighting in Libya, according to the daily.
Greece Coast Guard, navy vessels, fishing boats and a military helicopter were scouring the waters off the coast of Crete in search of the missing people.
Local residents alerted the Greek authorities after they spotted people in the water and on a beach near Souda early Sunday.
Meanwhile, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said it is stepping up efforts for the evacuation of the Bangladeshis who took shelter in Egypt and Tunisia after fleeing Libya.
The IOM registered around 7,000 Bangladeshis on the Tunisian border and 6,500 more on the Egyptian border. Another 14,000 Bangladeshis are yet to be registered with the organisation.
“Nearly 80 percent of foreign nationals at the two borders now are Bangladeshis,” an IOM spokesperson in Dhaka said.
There are over 65,000 Bangladeshis, mostly construction workers, in Libya.
The US government will repatriate some of the Bangladeshis stranded in Tunisia, US Ambassador to Bangladesh James F. Moriarty said Monday.
“On behalf of the American people, I am glad to announce our assistance and support to so many Bangladeshi citizens in need,” Moriarty said.
With reports of violence, including cases of robbery and attacks by armed groups in Tripoli and other Libyan cities pouring in, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government has come under pressure to step up evacuation.
The main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) announced a charter of demands asking the government to send “ships and, if needed, army aircraft to bring back the expatriate Bangladeshis from Libya”, the Star Online reported.