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At least 150 drown as yet another Lampedusa-bound boat capsizes

News Stories, 3 June 2011

© UNHCR/F.Noy
A floating cemetery of smuggler's boats in Lampedusa. These rickety boats were used to transport people fleeing Libya for Italy. Many do not make it this far.

GENEVA, June 3 (UNHCR) At least 150 people who fled Libya in hope of reaching the Italian island of Lampedusa have drowned in one of the year's deadliest boat incidents in the Mediterranean.

Survivors told UNHCR staff that the overcrowded boat had set sail last Saturday from the Libyan capital of Tripoli, carrying an estimated 850 people mostly from West Africa, Pakistan and Bangladesh. The crew was recruited on an ad hoc basis and had little or no maritime experience. The boat developed technical problems soon after departure and was lost at sea. By day three, the passengers had run out of food and water.

"The boat ultimately ran aground on Wednesday on a sandbank near the Kerkennah islands, some 300 km north-west of Tripoli," UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards told journalists in Geneva on Friday. "It capsized as desperate passengers rushed to one side, seeking rescue by the Tunisian coast guard and fishing boats that had approached the vessel. Many fell into the water."

Women and children are among the missing. The Tunisian navy and coast guard are continuing with the rescue operation.

"Seven people, including two pregnant women, are receiving intensive care in hospitals in Sfax on mainland Tunisia," said Edwards. "Yesterday, 195 survivors were transferred to the IFRC camp near Ras Adjir close to Tunisia's border with Libya. Today, another 383 are scheduled to be transported to this and other nearby camps where they will receive counselling and other help."

In a separate development, UNHCR has cleaned up a large area that was destroyed last week in Choucha camp, also in the Ras Adjir region. The agency has reorganized the site after consulting with representatives of refugee and migrant communities. One hundred and sixty-eight tents have already been set up and more will follow.

Choucha camp hosts some 2,800 people who fled the conflict in Libya. Another 1,000 people are accommodated in other camps around Ras Adjir.

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

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.

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

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

Resettlement from Tunisia's Choucha Camp

Between February and October 2011, more than 1 million people crossed into Tunisia to escape conflict in Libya. Most were migrant workers who made their way home or were repatriated, but the arrivals included refugees and asylum-seekers who could not return home or live freely in Tunisia.

UNHCR has been trying to find solutions for these people, most of whom ended up in the Choucha Transit Camp near Tunisia's border with Libya. Resettlement remains the most viable solution for those registered as refugees at Choucha before a cut-off date of December 1, 2011.

As of late April, 14 countries had accepted 2,349 refugees for resettlement, 1,331 of whom have since left Tunisia. The rest are expected to leave Choucha later this year. Most have gone to Australia, Norway and the United States. But there are a more than 2,600 refugees and almost 140 asylum-seekers still in the camp. UNHCR continues to advocate with resettlement countries to find solutions for them.

Resettlement from Tunisia's Choucha Camp

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.

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.