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Over 130 African Migrants Die in Boat Tragedy

More than 130 people have drowned after a boat carrying African migrants caught fire and sank near the Italian island of Lampedusa.

Italian authorities say as many as 500 passengers were on board when the boat capsized Thursday, in what has become one of the deadliest accidents in the Mediterranean.

The Italian coast guard says about 150 people have been rescued and a search continues for missing passengers.

Survivors told authorities the boat began taking on water after the motor stopped working. Migrants then set a blanket on fire to attract other boaters.

They say after the fire started, passengers moved to the other side of the boat, causing it to flip over and sink.

Italy's interior minister, Angelino Alfano, says at least three children and two pregnant women were among those who drowned.

Investigators say most of the passengers were from Eritrea or Somalia.

Lampedusa, an island closer to continental Africa than to the Italian mainland, is often the destination for boats full of migrants seeking entrance to the European Union.

The United Nations refugee agency says the boat originated in Libya.

High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres expressed "shock" over the boat tragedy. He also expressed dismay at what he called a "rising global phenomenon" of people fleeing conflict or persecution, and perishing at sea.

On Monday, 13 would-be migrants drowned off the coast of nearby Sicily after their boat sank and they tried to swim to shore.

The UNHRC says about 500 people were killed or reported missing last year after they tried to cross from North Africa to Italy or Malta.

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