UNHCR mourns great tenor Luciano Pavarotti

News Stories, 7 September 2007

© D.Venturelli
Maestro Pavarotti (left) performed with rock and pop stars (here on stage with James Brown, Zucchero, Andrea Bocelli, Elisa and Sting). The tenor's annual "Pavarotti and Friends" concerts raised millions for refugee programmes.

ROME, Italy, September 7 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency has issued a statement mourning the death of Luciano Pavarotti, a staunch supporter of the refugee cause and of UNHCR's work around the world.

In a statement, UNHCR said it was "deeply saddened" by the death early Thursday of the celebrated Italian tenor, who was 71. Tributes have been pouring in from around the world. "Nature equipped him with one of the most individual, unmistakable and beautiful voices there has been," noted Britain's The Guardian newspaper.

Pavarotti also used his immense talent to help others. "A United Nations Messenger of Peace, Pavarotti was deeply concerned about the plight of the world's uprooted people and generously used his talents to mobilize public opinion and support for UNHCR's global refugee work," the refugee agency's statement noted.

The singer's annual "Pavarotti and Friends" concerts, bringing together some of the world's greatest rock and pop stars, provided invaluable support to UNHCR's projects in Kosovo in 1999; for Afghan refugees in Pakistan in 2001; for Angolan refugees in Zambia in 2002; and for the agency's Iraq operation in 2003.

Individual donations during and after the concerts and the proceeds from ticket sales and CDs totalled more than US$7 million for refugee projects over the years.

In 2001, Pavarotti was presented the Nansen Refugee Award, granted annually by UNHCR in recognition of outstanding service to the cause of refugees, for his great generosity. At the time, he had raised more funds for the agency than any other individual.

"UNHCR extends its condolences to Luciano Pavarotti's wife, Nicoletta Mantovani, and to his family," Walter Irvine, UNHCR regional representative for Italy, said. "He will be fondly remembered by the many UNHCR staff around the world who had the pleasure of working with him."

Pavarotti is lying in state in the cathedral of his hometown of Modena, where his funeral will take place on Saturday. He was diagnosed with cancer in 2006.

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Drifting Towards Italy

Every year, Europe's favourite summer playground - the Mediterranean Sea - turns into a graveyard as hundreds of men, women and children drown in a desperate bid to reach European Union (EU) countries.

The Italian island of Lampedusa is just 290 kilometres off the coast of Libya. In 2006, some 18,000 people crossed this perilous stretch of sea - mostly on inflatable dinghies fitted with an outboard engine. Some were seeking employment, others wanted to reunite with family members and still others were fleeing persecution, conflict or indiscriminate violence and had no choice but to leave through irregular routes in their search for safety.

Of those who made it to Lampedusa, some 6,000 claimed asylum. And nearly half of these were recognized as refugees or granted some form of protection by the Italian authorities.

In August 2007, the authorities in Lampedusa opened a new reception centre to ensure that people arriving by boat or rescued at sea are received in a dignified way and are provided with adequate accommodation and medical facilities.

Drifting Towards Italy

Angelina Jolie meets boat people in Malta, Lampedusa

Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie joined UNHCR chief António Guterres on the Italian island of Lampedusa, where they met with boat people who have fled unrest in North Africa.

More than 40,000 people, including refugees and asylum-seekers, have crossed the Mediterranean on overcrowded boats and descended on the small island since the beginning of the year.

The UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador flew to Lampedusa from Malta, which has also been a destination for people fleeing North Africa by boat.

Angelina Jolie meets boat people in Malta, Lampedusa

Fleeing Libya by sea

Thousands of people, mainly sub-Saharan Africans, are taking to the sea in ancient, leaky and overcrowded boats to escape war in their adopted homeland. Libya. The destination of choice is the Italian resort island of Lampedusa, some 600 kilometres north of Libya in the Mediterranean. Many of the passengers arrive traumatized and exhausted from the high seas journey. Others perish en route.

One Ivorian migrant describes life in Tripoli before leaving: "There was no peace. There was rifle fire everywhere. Then NATO started to bomb. We had nothing to eat. Some Libyans started to attack strangers at night, to steal your money, your mobile, whatever you have ... No way to stay there with them. Better to flee."

UNHCR estimates that one in 10 people die during the sea journey from Libya. Those bodies which wash ashore get a simple burial in Lampedusa's cemetery.

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Ali's father calls him 'Miracle Ali. The toddler's parents along with 40-days old Ali who suffers from Down's Syndrome were onboard an overcrowded fishing boat when it capsized less than 12 hours after departure from Libya to go to Italy. The tragedy left hundreds missing, now presumed dead. The survivors arrived in Italy thankful but shocked by their ordeal.
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Nawaf, his wife and children are used to the sea, they lived by it and Nawaf was a fisherman back in Syria. They never imagined they would be boarding a boat that was a one way passage out of Syria. Nawaf was on the run after brief time in detention were he was tortured. By the time he release, he was blind in one eye. Now safely in Europe the family is looking forward to restarting their life in Germany, to having their 6-year old daughter go to school for the first time.

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Single mother Lamia had her own fashion workshop in Syria, she comes from a comfortable background but lost all her money in the war. Under the sound of gunfire she closed the workshop, took her two children and headed to Sudan in a lorry with dozens other people. She is now seeking asylum in Italy's fashion capital, Milan.