At least 150 immigrants on their way from Libya to Italy are now feared lost in stormy waters south of the Italian island of Lampedusa.

A boat with probably about 300 people aboard, mostly of Somali and Eritrean origin, sank in the early morning of 6 April about 70kms from the Lampedusa coast. Many women and children are thought to have been aboard the boat, which left Libya about two days ago.

Rescuers based on the Italian island have so far picked up 48 survivors.

About 20,000 immigrants have arrived in Italy since the start of conflicts in north Africa this year, many of them starting out from Tunisia. Conditions on the island of Lampedusa have become so bad that Italy is now relocating people to the mainland. About 1,000 have arrived in Lazio and are being housed at barracks in the port of Civitavecchia.

On Tuesday 5 April Italy came to an agreement with Tunisia in an attempt to stop further arrivals. Italy has said that it will give three-month residency papers to illegal immigrants who have already arrived in the country. It will also help Tunisia patrol its waters against more illegal embarkations. In return Italy has made it clear that it will return any new arrivals to Tunisia immediately.