Survivors of sea voyage to Malta say seven Somali refugees died

News Stories, 8 May 2012

© ANSA
An aerial photo from the past shows an overcrowded boat off the coast of Malta.

VALETTA, Malta, May 8 (UNHCR) Somali asylum-seekers who landed their boat on one of Malta's most popular beaches at the weekend have told UNHCR that seven fellow passengers died during their week-long voyage from Libya.

The boat came ashore at Riviera Bay on Saturday and the emergency services were alerted to the arrival of the 90 exhausted Somalis by people enjoying an evening on the beach.

This is the fourth such boat to have arrived in Malta this year, bringing a cumulative total of more than 210 people. A further 26 vessels carrying migrants and refugees have arrived in Italy from Libya. "According to our regional office in Italy the latest deaths bring the number of reported or confirmed dead among people attempting to reach Europe from Libya to 81 this year or two people every three days on average," UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards said.

Compared to last year, which saw tens of thousands of people travelling from Tunisia and Libya, numbers of arrivals in Malta and Italy from North Africa are down, with around 1,400 people having arrived in 2012, the majority in Italy.

Last year, an estimated 1,500 people were reported missing or dead attempting to reach Europe across the Mediterranean.

"UNHCR reiterates its call to ship masters in the Mediterranean for heightened vigilance and continued adherence to the longstanding maritime obligation of aiding those in distress," Edwards stressed.

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The government is trying to address the problem and, in February 2013, announced the creation of 4,000 additional places in state-run reception centres for asylum-seekers. But many asylum-seekers are still forced to sleep rough or to occupy empty buildings. One such building, dubbed the "Refugee Hotel" by its transient population, lies on the outskirts of the eastern city of Dijon. It illustrates the critical accommodation situation.

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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.

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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.

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