Mediterranean crossings to Italy and Malta exceed 8000 in first six months of 2013

Briefing Notes, 5 July 2013

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 5 July 2013, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR estimates that approximately 8,400 migrants and asylum-seekers landed on the coasts of Italy and Malta in the first six months of this year. The majority arrived in Italy (7,800), while Malta received around 600 migrants and asylum-seekers.

Those making this journey mostly departed from North Africa, principally Libya (around 6,700 people). The remaining 1,700 crossed from Greece and Turkey, landing in southern Italy's Apulia and Calabria regions.

Countries in Sub-Saharan Africa are the main places of origin of these migrants and asylum-seekers, particularly Somalia and Eritrea. Other countries of origin include Egypt, Pakistan and Syria. Nationals of Gambia, Mali and Afghanistan also make these crossings, but in smaller numbers.

The Mediterranean is one of the busiest seaways in the world, as well as a dangerous sea frontier for migrants and asylum seekers en route to southern Europe. In view of the perils UNHCR again calls on all vessels at sea to be on alert for migrants and refugees in need of rescue. We also renew our call to all shipmasters in the Mediterranean to remain vigilant and to carry out their duty of rescuing vessels in distress. International and European law also requires states to ensure that people intercepted or rescued at sea who seek asylum can gain access to territory and to an asylum procedure where their international protection needs or claims can be examined.

The peak crossing period for migrants and asylum-seekers runs from May to September. At this time of year when there is an increase in the number of people trying to make this perilous journey it is essential to ensure that the long-established tradition of rescue at sea is upheld by all and that international maritime law is adhered to.

For 2012 as a whole, some 15,000 migrants and asylum-seekers reached Italy and Malta (13,200 and 1,800 respectively) by sea. The number arriving in the first six months of 2012 was 4,500 (3,500 in Italy and 1,000 in Malta).

UNHCR has recorded some 40 deaths in the first six months of 2013 by people attempting to cross the Mediterranean between North Africa and Italy. This number is based on interviews conducted with people who reached Europe using boats.

In 2012, almost 500 people were reported dead or missing at sea. The decrease in deaths so far in 2013 is thanks in part to the efforts of the Italian and Maltese authorities, in particular the Italian coastguard and the Maltese armed forces, in effectively coordinating rescue at sea. UNHCR also welcomes the on-going efforts by the authorities in Italy, Malta and Libya to rescue boats in distress in the Mediterranean, and calls on all states to continue to fulfil their obligations under international refugee law and law of the sea.

For information on this topic, please contact:

  • In Rome, Federico Fossi on mobile + 39 349 084 3461
  • In Valletta, Fabrizio Ellul on mobile + 356 99 69 0081
  • In Geneva, Dan McNorton on mobile + 41 79 217 3011
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Asylum and Migration

Asylum and Migration

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.

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.

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

Fleeing Libya by sea

Thousands of people, mainly sub-Saharan Africans, are taking to the sea in ancient, leaky and overcrowded boats to escape war in their adopted homeland. Libya. The destination of choice is the Italian resort island of Lampedusa, some 600 kilometres north of Libya in the Mediterranean. Many of the passengers arrive traumatized and exhausted from the high seas journey. Others perish en route.

One Ivorian migrant describes life in Tripoli before leaving: "There was no peace. There was rifle fire everywhere. Then NATO started to bomb. We had nothing to eat. Some Libyans started to attack strangers at night, to steal your money, your mobile, whatever you have ... No way to stay there with them. Better to flee."

UNHCR estimates that one in 10 people die during the sea journey from Libya. Those bodies which wash ashore get a simple burial in Lampedusa's cemetery.

May 2011

Fleeing Libya by sea

Italy: Nightmare at seaPlay video

Italy: Nightmare at sea

Ali's father calls him 'Miracle Ali. The toddler's parents along with 40-days old Ali who suffers from Down's Syndrome were onboard an overcrowded fishing boat when it capsized less than 12 hours after departure from Libya to go to Italy. The tragedy left hundreds missing, now presumed dead. The survivors arrived in Italy thankful but shocked by their ordeal.
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.