Migrants missing after boat sinks near Lampedusa

The first people were pulled from the sea early on Friday morning

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Italian coast guard and Nato vessels are searching the waters around the island of Lampedusa after a migrant boat sank, leaving at least one person dead and dozens missing.

A further 56 people - including a pregnant woman - have been rescued.

Survivors said there were about 100 people on board the boat, which sank in the early hours on Friday morning.

Lampedusa, about 80 miles (120km) from Tunisia, is one of the nearest gateways to Europe for African migrants.

Officials have said the initial figure of about 100 people on board may be inflated.

The migrant boat, reported to be 10m (33ft) long, sank about 12 nautical miles off Lampedusa.

Nato ships pulled two survivors out of the water, while others were found on an uninhabited outcrop of land.

A coast guard spokesman quoted by the Associated Press news agency said 56 people had been accounted for, all of them believed to be Tunisian.

Prosecutors have opened an inquiry into whether there were people traffickers on board, the AFP news agency said.

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But Laura Boldrini, spokeswoman for the UN refugee agency UNHCR, told AFP: "The idea of people smugglers is by now obsolete.

"Today it is the migrants themselves who take turns in sailing the boat. They are often people with no maritime experience."

On Thursday, 56 people drowned, about half of them said to be children, after a migrant boat capsized off the coast of western Turkey.

Another 45 of those on board - said to be Iraqis, Syrians and Palestinians heading for Europe - managed to swim to shore, officials said.

In 2011, at least 1,500 people drowned in the Mediterranean trying to reach Europe, Amnesty International reported.

Many of them were fleeing upheaval in Tunisia and Libya, in the wake of the Arab Spring uprisings.

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