Sicilian trawler and UNHCR help in rescue of 27 Somalians

News Stories, 10 June 2008

© Courtesy of ANSA/ Franco Lannino
A group of boat people arrive at Lampedusa Island after being towed by a fishing boat.

ROME, Italy, June 10 (UNHCR) Two Sicilian fishing boat captains due to be honoured on World Refugee Day next week for saving people at sea were recently involved in the rescue of another 27 boat people in the Mediterranean. But three people are reported missing after last Thursday's rescue operation, which also involved the UN refugee agency and the Italian navy.

Gaspare Marrone and his crew were fishing for tuna south of Italy's Lampedusa Island when they spotted a boat in distress carrying 30 Somalis. The Sicilians started bringing the boat people on board, but the Somalis' small vessel capsized and three people were unaccounted for.

Nicola Asaro, another Sicilian captain fishing in the area, called UNHCR's Senior Regional Public Information Officer Laura Boldrini by satellite phone and told her that Marrone and his crew were trying to mount a rescue operation but were having difficulties.

Boldrini passed the information including the coordinates of Marrone's fishing boat to the Italian coast guard and navy, who contacted the Sicilian captain and agreed to send help.

Marrone was able to detach his boat from the tuna pen that it was towing and rescue 27 people, including seven women, and then he sailed northwards and rendezvoused Thursday night with an Italian naval vessel, which took off the survivors. They were taken to Porto Empedocle in Sicily.

Asaro and Marrone are no strangers to selfless heroism at sea. They are due to be honoured at this year's joint UNHCR-Italian coast guard Per Mare Award ceremony, which will take place in Rome on World Refugee Day (June 20).

Marrone and his crew will be recognized for saving 54 boat people in November 2007, while Asaro and his crew are honoured for rescuing 14 people outside Italian waters in July last year. Asaro also rescued 50 people back in 2003.

The Per Mare Award was set up last year to try to counter the trend whereby boat people in distress in the Mediterranean are often ignored by commercial vessels, whose crews fear they may face investigations for aiding and abetting irregular migration. "So far, it appears to have been extremely successful, with fishing boat captains calling UNHCR to report rescue operations or to ask for help," said Walter Irvine, UNHCR's Rome-based regional representative.

Tens of thousands of people, including migrants and refugees, put out in small boats from the North African coast every year in a bid to reach European territory across the dangerous high seas.

Last year, a total of 19,900 people arrived in Italy's islands or the mainland by boat from North Africa, compared with 22,000 in 2006. At least 471 were reported dead or missing in 2007. Some 35 percent of those reaching Italy apply for asylum, with 22 percent being granted a form of protection.

By Giulia Laganà in Rome, Italy




UNHCR country pages

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.

Flood Airdrop in Kenya

Over the weekend, UNHCR with the help of the US military began an emergency airdrop of some 200 tonnes of relief supplies for thousands of refugees badly hit by massive flooding in the Dadaab refugee camps in northern Kenya.

In a spectacular sight, 16 tonnes of plastic sheeting, mosquito nets, tents and blankets, were dropped on each run from the C-130 transport plane onto a site cleared of animals and people. Refugees loaded the supplies on trucks to take to the camps.

Dadaab, a three-camp complex hosting some 160,000 refugees, mainly from Somalia, has been cut off from the world for a month by heavy rains that washed away the road connecting the remote camps to the Kenyan capital, Nairobi. Air transport is the only way to get supplies into the camps.

UNHCR has moved 7,000 refugees from Ifo camp, worst affected by the flooding, to Hagadera camp, some 20 km away. A further 7,000 refugees have been moved to higher ground at a new site, called Ifo 2.

Posted in December 2006

Flood Airdrop in Kenya

New Arrivals in Yemen

During one six-day period at the end of March, more than 1,100 Somalis and Ethiopians arrived on the shores of Yemen after crossing the Gulf of Aden on smuggler's boats from Bosaso, Somalia. At least 28 people died during these recent voyages – from asphyxiation, beating or drowning – and many were badly injured by the smugglers. Others suffered skin problems as a result of prolonged contact with sea water, human waste, diesel oil and other chemicals.

During a recent visit to Yemen, UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner for Protection Erika Feller pledged to further raise the profile of the situation, to appeal for additional funding and international action to help Yemen, and to develop projects that will improve the living conditions and self sufficiency of the refugees in Yemen.

Since January 2006, Yemen has received nearly 30,000 people from Somalia, Ethiopia and other places, while more than 500 people have died during the sea crossing and at least 300 remain missing. UNHCR provides assistance, care and housing to more than 100,000 refugees already in Yemen.

New Arrivals in Yemen

The Gulf of Aden: Sharp Rise in Crossings and Deaths

The number of people arriving on the coast of Yemen after being smuggled across the treacherous Gulf of Aden from the Horn of Africa has more than doubled this year. So far this year, more than 18,000 people have arrived in Yemen across the Gulf of Aden, and nearly 400 have died attempting the journey.

This surge in arrivals is largely due to the continuing conflict in Somalia and the use of new smuggling routes from Somalia to Yemen and across the Red Sea from Djibouti. Many of the new arrivals also tell of crop losses due to drought, which forced them to leave home. This photo set focuses on those people leaving from Djibouti.

UNHCR has been calling for increased action to save lives in the Gulf of Aden and other waters. We have stepped up our work in Yemen under a US$17 million operation that includes extra staff, provision of additional shelter and assistance, and protection for refugees and internally displaced people.

Posted on 20 May 2008

The Gulf of Aden: Sharp Rise in Crossings and Deaths

Italy: Desperate Rescue at SeaPlay video

Italy: Desperate Rescue at Sea

Tens of thousands are fleeing from the North African coast, seeking safety in Europe via a dangerous Mediterranean Sea crossings. Many are Syrian refugees, many others come from Sub-Saharan Africa - all risk their lives.
Italy: Desperate Rescue at SeaPlay video

Italy: Desperate Rescue at Sea

Tens of thousands are fleeing from the North African coast, seeking safety in Europe via a dangerous Mediterranean Sea crossings. Many are Syrian refugees, many others come from Sub-Saharan Africa - all risk their lives.
Italy: Haunted by a Sinking Ship Play video

Italy: Haunted by a Sinking Ship

"Every time I try to sleep I see what I saw in the water, what happened to me, the dead children" Thamer & Thayer, brothers from Syria, escaped war, then unrest in Libya only to be faced with death on the Mediterranean The Lampedusa boat tragedies sparked a debate on asylum policies in Europe, leading Italian authorities to launch a search and rescue operation in the Mediterranean Sea. Called Mare Nostrum, the operation had rescued more than 63,000 people at the time this video was published in July 2014.