More than 200 boat people feared drowned in separate incidents

News Stories, 14 December 2007

© UNHCR/A.Di Loreto
A UNHCR protection officer talks to newly arrived boat people on a beach in Lampedusa, Italy earlier this year.

GENEVA, December 14 (UNHCR) The deadly drama of migrants and refugees dying at sea as they attempt to cross waterways around the world was underscored last week by a number of tragedies which left more than 200 people dead or missing off Turkey, the Canary Islands and Yemen.

Last Saturday, 51 people drowned when a boat carrying irregular migrants from Turkey to Greece sank in rough weather off the Turkish coast close to Seferihisar, a town 50 kilometres south-west of Izmir. Another 35 people are still missing and are presumed to have also drowned.

Last weekend, the Spanish media reported that up to 90 migrants were missing at sea after two separate incidents involving large canoes attempting to reach the Canary Islands from Senegal and from Western Sahara.

In Yemen, where 27,000 people, mostly Somalis and Ethiopians, have arrived by boat this year, UNHCR staff reported 31 people drowned or missing between December 5 and last Wednesday. This brought the overall toll in these incidents to 207 in one week.

Tens of thousands of boat people risk their lives each year in the Mediterranean Sea, the Gulf of Aden, the Caribbean and off the coast of West Africa. Many are migrants seeking a better life, but some are also refugees fleeing persecution and violence.

More than 200 participants from governments and non-governmental organizations, plus experts, took part in a two-day UNHCR-organized dialogue in Geneva on the issue. They voiced support for a more coherent, comprehensive and integrated approach to ensure the protection of refugees among migrants now on the move worldwide.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres, opening the meeting, said: "We want to promote measures that will save the lives of people who are in distress on the high seas and ensure their safe and timely disembarkation."

At a session devoted to rescue at sea, the UN refugee agency urged participants to do everything possible to avoid tragedies such as those seen recently in the Mediterranean, the Atlantic and the Gulf of Aden.

UNHCR and its partners, including the International Maritime Organization, are promoting measures that will save those who are in distress on the high seas and ensure their safe and timely disembarkation.

Much of the dialogue, the first in an annual series examining key refugee-related issues in an open and frank spirit, focused on how to better ensure that refugees forced to flee violence and persecution are able to find the protection they need as governments try to grapple with growing migratory movements on their borders. Participants said they appreciated UNHCR's initiative on this issue and welcomed the opportunity to voice and discuss their concerns.

By William Spindler in Geneva




Refugee Protection and Mixed Migration: A 10-Point Plan of Action

A UNHCR strategy setting out key areas in which action is required to address the phenomenon of mixed and irregular movements of people. See also: Schematic representation of a profiling and referral mechanism in the context of addressing mixed migratory movements.

International Migration

The link between movements of refugees and broader migration attracts growing attention.

Mixed Migration

Migrants are different from refugees but the two sometimes travel alongside each other.

Rescue at Sea

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

Asylum and Migration

Asylum and Migration

All in the same boat: The challenges of mixed migration around the world.

Arriving in Europe, refugees find chaos as well as kindness

Each day, thousands of refugees and migrants are risking everything to make the perilous journey to Europe. The majority - who come from war-torn Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan - are passing through Greece and then making their way to Germany. Transit countries have been overwhelmed by the influx, but volunteers and NGOs are stepping in to provide support along the route. In Hungary, where there is a large bottleneck of people trying to make their way onwards to places like Germany, UNHCR is mobilizing relief items, including tents, plastic sheets and thermal blankets. The refugee agency is also calling on officials there to streamline the registration process and allow humanitarian organizations to provide swift assistance to those in greatest need. UNHCR is also calling on EU Member States to work together to strengthen emergency reception, assistance and registration efforts in the countries most impacted by arrivals, particularly Greece, Hungary and Italy. UNHCR photographers have been on hand documenting the arduous journey.

Arriving in Europe, refugees find chaos as well as kindness

The Children of Harmanli Face a Bleak Winter

Since the Syrian crisis began in March 2011, more than 2 million people have fled the violence. Many have made their way to European Union countries, finding sanctuary in places like Germany and Sweden. Others are venturing into Europe by way of Bulgaria, where the authorities struggle to accommodate and care for some 8,000 asylum-seekers, many of whom are Syrian. More than 1,000 of these desperate people, including 300 children, languish in an overcrowded camp in the town of Harmanli, 50 kilometres from the Turkish-Bulgarian border. These people crossed the border in the hope of starting a new life in Europe. Some have travelled in family groups; many have come alone with dreams of reuniting in Europe with loved ones; and still others are unaccompanied children. The sheer number of people in Harmanli is taxing the ability of officials to process them, let alone shelter and feed them. This photo essay explores the daily challenges of life in Harmanli.

The Children of Harmanli Face a Bleak Winter

George Dalaras

George Dalaras

Italy: Maya's Song Play video

Italy: Maya's Song

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.

Greece: Refugee Crisis in EuropePlay video

Greece: Refugee Crisis in Europe

Over 100,000 refugees have arrived to Greece by sea this year. UNHCR is mobilizing emergency teams, resources and delivering basic humanitarian assistance in order to address the most urgent gaps and support government efforts. Volunteers, local communities and NGOs are providing invaluable assistance but they need support.

Saving Diana: A Syrian Refugee With Special NeedsPlay video

Saving Diana: A Syrian Refugee With Special Needs

Ten year old Diana was born in Syria with a severe form of Cerebral Palsy. For nearly a month, she traveled with her mother and brother across deserts and sea in search of safety in Europe.