Italy, Malta receive first boats from Libya, stretching asylum capacity

Briefing Notes, 29 March 2011

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 29 March 2011, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

In the last four days, we have seen the first boat arrivals into Europe directly from Libya since the outbreak of conflict there. Over 2,000 non-Libyans have fled Tripoli by boat to Italy and Malta, stretching reception capacities for people possibly in need of protection.

Five boats have arrived in Italy since Saturday evening carrying 1,484 people. Two boats arrived in Malta yesterday with 535 passengers. Most of them are Eritreans and Somalis, with many women and children among them, but there are also Ethiopians, Sudanese and a number of other nationalities. To date Libyans do not appear to be among those arriving in either country.

Passengers from the first boat disembarked on the tiny island of Linosa, some 50 km north-east of Lampedusa. Two other boats arrived in Italy on Sunday and were also disembarked on Linosa before being transferred by ferry to Sicily. Two further boats arrived early this morning, one in Sicily and the other in Lampedusa.

A woman gave birth at sea while awaiting rescue, while two others suffered miscarriages during the ordeal at sea or after landing in Linosa. Most of the new arrivals slept outside over the weekend before being transferred to reception facilities in Sicily.

UNHCR is discussing contingency planning with the Italian and Maltese authorities and Red Cross, as there are indications that more arrivals from Libya can be expected. As of this morning there were unconfirmed reports of a number of boats in distress on the Mediterranean carrying more people fleeing from Libya.

The reception capacity of the larger Italian island of Lampedusa is already over-stretched following the arrival of thousands of Tunisians over the past weeks. Since mid-January 19,000 Tunisians, mostly young men seeking employment, have arrived on Lampedusa. While 13,000 have been transferred to reception centres in Sicily and mainland Italy, over 6,000 Tunisian migrants remain, outnumbering the local population of some 5,000 people.

The ongoing flow of Tunisians, most of whom are not seeking international protection, puts a particular strain on Italy's ability to respond to the arrival of asylum seekers and refugees fleeing the violence in Libya. UNHCR appeals to the European Union institutions and Member States to support Italy to deal with these new challenges.

UNHCR is grateful to Italy and Malta for their reception of the new arrivals from Libya and urges other European Union countries to demonstrate solidarity with these front line countries.

Futher information for journalists on arrivals in Libya's neighbouring states:

On 27 March, Egyptian immigration authorities processed 2,055 people entering the Egyptian border of Salloum from Libya including 367 Egyptians, 1,154 Libyans, 184 Nigerians, 121 Chadians, 88 Sudanese and 46 Syrians. On the same day, Tunisian authorities at the Ras Adjir border reported that 906 people crossed the border from Libya including 207 Egyptians, 206 Bangladeshis, 136 Chadians and 134 Eritreans.

In addition to the arrivals in Italy and Malta, as of 27 March 381,888 people have fled the violence in Libya. This includes over 193,783 to Tunisia (including 19,541 Tunisian, 23,184 Libyans and 145,476 others), 156,471 to Egypt (including 79,020 Egyptians, 32,679 Libyans and 44,772 others), 15,647 to Niger (including 14,698 Nigerien and 949 others), 9,987 to Algeria (including land, air and sea evacuations), 3,200 to Chad and 2,800 to Sudan.

For media queries on this topic, please contact:
In Geneva Sybella Wilkes on mobile +41 79 557 91 38
In Rome, Federico Fossi on office no. +39 06 802 123 18
In Valetta, Fabrizio Ellul on mobile +356 99 69 0081

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A Cry for Those in Peril on the Sea

Earlier this month, within sight of shore after a long journey from Libya, a boat carrying hundreds of people foundered off the Italian island of Lampedusa. More than 300 people, many of them children, drowned and only 156 people were picked out of the water alive. The tragedy was staggering for its heavy death toll, but it is unlikely to prevent people from making the dangerous and irregular journey by sea to try and reach Europe. Many seek a better life in Europe, but others are escaping persecution in countries like Eritrea and Somalia. And it's not just happening on the Mediterranean. Desperate people fleeing poverty, conflict or persecution are risking their lives to cross the Gulf of Aden from Africa; Rohingya from Myanmar are heading into the Bay of Bengal on flimsy boats in search of a safe haven; people of several nationalities try to reach Australia by boat; others cross the Caribbean. And many remember the Vietnamese boat people exodus of the 1970s and 1980s. As then, governments need to work together to reduce the risk to life. These photos, from UNHCR's archives, capture the plight of boat people around the world.

A Cry for Those in Peril on the Sea

Growing Numbers of Syrians Seek Refuge in Egypt

Since the Syrian crisis erupted in March 2011, more than 1.6 million Syrians have fled their homeland to escape the fighting. Most have sought shelter in countries neighbouring Syria - Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. But a significant number have made their way to Egypt in recent months. They are coming by air from Lebanon after leaving Syria, and also by sea. Since March, UNHCR has been registering about 2,000 a week. To date, almost 80,000 have registered as refugees, with half of them women and children. UNHCR believes there may be many more and the refugee agency is reaching out to these people so that they can receive vital protection and assistance and get access to basic services. The Syrians are staying with host families or renting apartments, mainly in urban centres such as Cairo, Sixth of October City, Alexandria and Damietta. The refugees heading to Egypt say they are attracted by its open door policy for Syrian refugees and by the lower rents and living costs. The following photographs were taken by Shawn Baldwin.

Growing Numbers of Syrians Seek Refuge in Egypt

On the Border: Stuck in Sallum

After violence erupted in Libya in February last year, tens of thousands of people began streaming into Egypt at the Sallum border crossing. Most were Egyptian workers, but almost 40,000 third country nationals also turned up at the border and had to wait until they could be repatriated. Today, with the spotlight long gone, a group of more than 2,000 people remain, mainly single young male refugees from the Sudan. But there are also women, children and the sick and elderly waiting for a solution to their situation. Most are likely to be resettled in third countries, but those who arrived after October are not being considered for resettlement, while some others have been rejected for refugee status. They live in tough conditions at the Egyptian end of the border crossing. A site for a new camp in no man's land has been identified. UNHCR, working closely with the border authorities, plays the major role in providing protection and assistance.

On the Border: Stuck in Sallum

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Italy: Mediterranean Rescue

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Italy: Thousands of Refugees Rescued in SicilyPlay video

Italy: Thousands of Refugees Rescued in Sicily

Over 1,200 migrants were rescued from inflatable boats off the boast of Lampedusa on the 7th of February by the Italian navy. Young men, women and children, crammed into eight dinghies and a boat, were spotted by helicopter half way between Tunisia and Italy.
Italy: Waiting for AsylumPlay video

Italy: Waiting for Asylum

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