UNHCR asks states to respect access to asylum

Briefing Notes, 2 September 2005

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 2 September 2005, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

According to media reports and non-governmental sources, a 17-year old boy from Cameroon died in the Spanish North-African enclave of Melilla on the night of 28 August, after a group of immigrants from Sub-Saharan Africa entered Spanish territory by jumping over the fence separating the enclave from Morocco. A clash between the immigrants and border guards from the Spanish Guardia Civil ensued in Spanish territory and the boy, according to some reports currently being investigated, died as a result of injuries sustained during this clash.

UNHCR expresses its consternation at this death and trusts that the enquiry announced by the Spanish authorities will serve to shed light on the events in Melilla and apportion responsibilities for this tragic outcome that reportedly also left several persons injured and others apparently summarily expelled.

This latest incident highlights the dramatic situation along the borders of the Spanish enclaves, where mixed in with economic migrants are people fleeing persecution, war and violence who need international protection. According to the information currently available, there are no indications that the boy from Cameroon was a potential refugee.

Our information indicates that over 10 per cent of all irregular migrants originating from sub-Saharan Africa arriving in the enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla are admitted to the asylum procedure in Spain.

UNHCR advocates for immigration policies in all countries to include safeguards allowing refugees and asylum seekers an effective opportunity to have access to asylum procedures. All governments need to ensure that their immigration control policies are carried out with respect for human rights.

UNHCR recommends that the border authorities continue to receive appropriate training on their responsibilities and the proper application of relevant international law. Immigration control procedures need to be in accordance with international human rights legislation and Spanish law.

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Sighted off Spain's Canary Islands

Despite considerable dangers, migrants seeking a better future and refugees fleeing war and persecution continue to board flimsy boats and set off across the high seas. One of the main routes into Europe runs from West Africa to Spain's Canary Islands.

Before 2006, most irregular migrants taking this route used small vessels called pateras, which can carry up to 20 people. They left mostly from Morocco and the Western Sahara on the half-day journey. The pateras have to a large extent been replaced by boats which carry up to 150 people and take three weeks to reach the Canaries from ports in West Africa.

Although only a small proportion of the almost 32,000 people who arrived in the Canary Islands in 2006 applied for asylum, the number has gone up. More than 500 people applied for asylum in 2007, compared with 359 the year before. This came at a time when the overall number of arrivals by sea went down by 75 percent during 2007.

Sighted off Spain's Canary Islands