Hundreds of new arrivals in Italy from Libya and Tunisia

Briefing Notes, 16 August 2011

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 16 August 2011, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

Almost 2,000 people arrived on the Italian island of Lampedusa over the weekend from Libya and Tunisia. The majority, some 1,800, set sail from Janzour, 12 kilometers west of Tripoli, Libya, where they had waited for over a week for calm sea conditions to depart. Of this number there were some 200 women and 30 children.

From interviews with some of the new arrivees, it's apparent that people are continuing to leave for a variety of reasons. A group of Sudanese men told UNHCR staff that they were rounded up in Tripoli and forced onto a boat. Others said they had lost jobs in Libya and were hoping for work in Europe.

Of the 52,000 people who have arrived in Italy as part of this year's North Africa outflow, 27,000 of these departed from Libya and the rest from Tunisia. All those arriving from Tunisia have been Tunisian. From Libya, we have seen some 134 arrivals with Libyan nationality, as well as significant numbers of Nigerians, Ghanaians, and Malians. Of the approximately 2000 Eritreans and Somalis, many had previously registered with UNHCR in Libya. UNHCR supports initiatives by the Italian Government for voluntary assisted repatriation of people found not to be in need of international protection.

To date more than 1,500 people have lost their lives attempting to reach Italy's shores, often because of unseaworthy vessels and an absence of qualified skippers onboard.

UNHCR is particularly concerned by an ongoing trend of refugees awaiting resettlement interviews in Tunisia crossing back into Libya to board boats for Europe. A mass information campaign in the camps is underway highlighting the risks of this journey.

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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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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

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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

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Libya endured severe upheaval in 2011 and the next government faces major challenges moving the country forward after four decades of Muammar Gaddafi's rigid rule. One task will be addressing and resolving the issue of tens of thousands of internally displaced people. Some are waiting for their homes to be repaired or rebuilt, but many more have been forced to desert their towns and villages because of their perceived support for Gaddafi and alleged crimes committed during the conflict. Meanwhile, growing numbers of people, including refugees and asylum-seekers, are coming to Libya from sub-Saharan Africa on well travelled mixed migration routes. Some are being detained as illegal immigrants, though many are people of concern. Others have risked the dangerous sea crossing to southern Europe.

Displacement Challenges for Libya

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Italy: Desperate Rescue at SeaPlay video

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