High Commissioner sends senior team to Morocco

Briefing Notes, 11 October 2005

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Ron Redmond to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 11 October 2005, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

The High Commissioner has sent a team of senior UNHCR headquarters staff to Morocco, led by our leading manager for North Africa and the Middle East and including specialists from our Europe Bureau and the Department of International Protection. This follows missions over the past week by other teams from our Madrid office to the Spanish enclaves of Melilla and Ceuta, as well as to the Canary Islands.

In addition, Mr. Guterres has written to the chairman of the Geneva Migration Group asking him to convene as soon as possible a meeting of the group to discuss this extremely complex situation involving primarily economic migrants, but including also people in need of international protection and therefore of concern to UNHCR.

As the High Commissioner told you on Friday, within large migration flows like this one, there are often people who are fleeing conflict and persecution and who deserve access to proper asylum procedures. While UNHCR recognises the legitimate right of governments to take measures to manage illegal migration, we strongly urge authorities to respect international protection principles, particularly against refoulement or forcibly returning people to a country where they face persecution; to treat everyone humanely; and to ensure that all asylum seekers are given access to fair and proper procedures.

Mr. Guterres, other senior headquarters staff and our offices in Madrid and Rabat have been in regular contact with Spanish and Moroccan authorities. Despite these ongoing efforts, we remain deeply concerned by alarming reports on the plight of these desperate people.

UNHCR is fully committed to help find solutions aimed at preventing the kinds of tragedies we've seen repeatedly in the Mediterranean, the Gulf of Aden and other parts of the world.

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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