ROME (Reuters) - More than half of the survivors of a shipwreck near the Italian island of Lampedusa last month which killed more than 360 migrants have disappeared from the center in Rome where they had been living, city officials said on Wednesday.
Between Sunday and Monday, 89 of the Eritrean survivors left the city-provided housing without a word to the authorities. They had previously spent more than a month in the overcrowded immigration center in Lampedusa.
All were asylum-seekers and were therefore free to go where they wanted, but city officials nonetheless said they were surprised that they had left so soon.
Rome will still take in the rest of the more than 150 survivors when they are eventually transferred from Lampedusa, a city official said.
"We had hoped they would remain for at least six months, and we were actively trying to find them jobs," Rome's alderman for social affairs, Rita Cutini, said.
"These are people who suffered enormously and we know that they often prefer to go to Northern Europe, like Germany or Norway, because there they may have family members who can take them in," she said.
Italy has asked the European Union to take on more of a role in the two-decade long immigration crisis, including considering an overhauling of asylum rules.
According to current EU rules, a refugee can only ask for asylum in the country where he or she first enters the region. But most of the African migrants and asylum seekers who safely reach Italy's shores move on to other EU countries.
(Reporting by Steve Scherer; Ediitng by Angus MacSwan)