• Text size Normal size text | Increase text size by 10% | Increase text size by 20% | Increase text size by 30%

UNHCR welcomes positive outcome for 51 boat people off Malta

News Stories, 21 July 2006

GENEVA, July 21 (UNHCR) UNHCR on Friday welcomed the Spanish government's role in finding a solution for a group of people stuck off the coast of Malta since being rescued by a Spanish fishing trawler on July 14, ending a weeklong stand-off.

On Friday afternoon, all 48 people remaining aboard the "Francisco Catalina" were allowed to disembark in Malta, joining three others a 2-year-old child, her mother and a pregnant woman who were earlier transferred to a hospital in the Maltese capital, Valetta.

Under a burden-sharing arrangement in which the European Commission played a key role, two Spanish planes were to transport most of the group to Madrid. Andorra, Italy and Malta also offered to take some members of the group.

"We are very grateful to the Spanish authorities and to the other governments involved for this generous humanitarian gesture, which is a fine example of solidarity and burden-sharing among countries," said UNHCR's Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, Erika Feller.

The group, consisting of 44 Eritreans, two Ethiopians and five people of other nationalities mainly from North Africa includes 10 women and a 2-year-old child.

A UNHCR staff member boarded the boat on Wednesday and with the help of an interpreter interviewed those rescued. Although further individual interviews are required at a later stage, UNHCR believes that most of the people in this group are persons of concern to the office.

"This episode shows that in situations such as this, it is possible to find solutions which take into account the different concerns of states and individuals," said Feller. "And in those types of situations, UNHCR can play a constructive role when persons within our mandate responsibilities are involved."

Feller commended the captain and crew of the "Francisco Catalina" for rescuing a group of people whose lives were definitely in danger.

"We hope that their exemplary actions will send a signal to other crews and ships facing similar situations about the imperative of preserving human life and humanitarian principles," she said.




UNHCR country pages

Rescue at Sea

A guide to principles and practice as applied to migrants and refugees.

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

2007 Nansen Refugee Award

The UN refugee agency's Nansen Awards Committee has named Dr. Katrine Camilleri, a 37-year-old lawyer with the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) in Malta, as the winner of the 2007 Nansen Refugee Award. The Committee was impressed by the political and civic courage she has shown in dealing with the refugee situation in Malta.

Dr. Camilleri first became aware of the plight of refugees as a 16-year-old girl when a priest visited her school to talk about his work. After graduating from the University of Malta in 1994, she began working in a small law firm where she came into contact with refugees. As Dr. Camilleri's interest grew in this humanitarian field, she started to work with the JRS office in Malta in 1997.

Over the last year, JRS and Dr. Camilleri have faced a series of attacks. Nine vehicles belonging to the Jesuits were burned in two separate attacks. And this April, arsonists set fire to both Dr. Camilleri's car and her front door, terrifying her family. The perpetrators were never caught but the attacks shocked Maltese society and drew condemnation from the Government of Malta. Dr. Camilleri continues to lead the JRS Malta legal team as Assistant Director.

2007 Nansen Refugee Award