UNHCR Chief expresses shock at new Mediterranean boat tragedy

Press Releases, 12 October 2013

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres expressed his shock that yet another boat tragedy in the Mediterranean has cost the lives of at least 26 people, mostly women and children.

Mr. Guterres commended the joint action taken by the Maltese coast guard to rescue 147 people and the Italian navy, which rescued 56. But according to survivors, there were as many as 400 Syrians and Palestinians on the boat, many now missing and feared drowned. The rescue took place 60 miles south east of Lampedusa, in Maltese waters.

"This is the third boat tragedy in the Mediterranean in just two weeks," Mr. Guterres said. "It is shameful to witness hundreds of unwitting migrants and refugees drowning on Europe's borders."

Mr. Guterres expressed particular worry that Syrians, who are fleeing a frightening conflict, are resorting to this dangerous route and drowning as they were seeking a safe haven in Europe. "There is something fundamentally inhumane in a world where which Syrians are forced to risk their lives in the hands of ruthless smugglers in attempt to reach safety in Europe. They escaped bullets and bombs only to perish before they could ever claim asylum," he said.

Mr. Guterres was also gravely concerned to learn of testimonies by survivors that they were shot at by a vessel shortly after departing Zwara, Libya, wounding three passengers. He expressed his hope that this incident can be clarified and those responsible brought to justice.

Two other boats, one with 183 passengers and the other with 83, were rescued last night off Lampedusa. 785 people are being hosted on the island, including the 156 survivors of the 3 October shipwreck. So far, 359 bodies have been recovered from the wreck.

UNHCR is calling for a number of urgent measures to prevent further tragedies and increase burden sharing:

1. A strengthened search and rescue capacity for rescue at sea in the Mediterranean to identify boats in distress, in particular those carrying refugees and migrants.

2. Shipmasters undertaking search and rescue operations should not be accused of facilitating the smuggling of the persons rescued or confronted with criminal charges.

3. The establishment of effective and predictable mechanisms for identifying places of safety for the disembarkation of rescued refugees and migrants.

4. The enhancement of reception facilities in Malta and Lampedusa and the establishment of additional facilities with access to assistance and care.

5. The establishment of profiling and referral mechanisms, including access to fair and efficient asylum procedures for those who may possibly be in need of international protection, based on the understanding that disembarkation does not necessarily imply sole responsibility for processing and solutions by the State on whose territory persons rescued at sea are disembarked.

6. Persons found in need of international protection should be given access to a durable solution, which could include mechanisms for an equitable distribution/relocation of those recognized as refugees or beneficiaries of subsidiary protection within the European Union or evacuation to a designated Evacuation Transit Centre based on existing models from where resettlement efforts could be undertaken both to European countries and non- European countries.

7. The gathering, analysis and sharing of data on movements by sea in the Mediterranean region, aimed at increasing knowledge of routes, motives and profiles of arrivals as a basis for building shared assessments and responses.

8. Further development of capacity and institution building of countries of transit including coordination efforts to identify and prosecute persons involved in smuggling and trafficking.

9. Reinforcement of protection strategies in countries of first asylum crossed by persons embarking on boats. These can include support to local integration through formal education, vocational training and livelihood support. It should also include enhanced resettlement efforts, facilitated access to family reunion options and other protection entry mechanisms.

10. Increased mass information programmes on local media and along the transit routes, including points of entry, aimed at informing all potential population of risks of onward movements.

For more information on this topic, please contact:

  • Melissa Fleming on mobile +41 79 557 9122
  • Barbara Molinario on mobile +39 338 546 2932 (in Rome)
  • Babar Baloch on mobile +41 79 557 9106
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UNHCR country pages

2007 Nansen Refugee Award

The UN refugee agency's Nansen Awards Committee has named Dr. Katrine Camilleri, a 37-year-old lawyer with the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) in Malta, as the winner of the 2007 Nansen Refugee Award. The Committee was impressed by the political and civic courage she has shown in dealing with the refugee situation in Malta.

Dr. Camilleri first became aware of the plight of refugees as a 16-year-old girl when a priest visited her school to talk about his work. After graduating from the University of Malta in 1994, she began working in a small law firm where she came into contact with refugees. As Dr. Camilleri's interest grew in this humanitarian field, she started to work with the JRS office in Malta in 1997.

Over the last year, JRS and Dr. Camilleri have faced a series of attacks. Nine vehicles belonging to the Jesuits were burned in two separate attacks. And this April, arsonists set fire to both Dr. Camilleri's car and her front door, terrifying her family. The perpetrators were never caught but the attacks shocked Maltese society and drew condemnation from the Government of Malta. Dr. Camilleri continues to lead the JRS Malta legal team as Assistant Director.

2007 Nansen Refugee Award

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

Italy: Mediterranean RescuePlay video

Italy: Mediterranean Rescue

The Italy Navy rescues hundreds of migrants and asylum seekers on the high seas as the numbers of people undertaking the crossing of the Mediterranean from North Africa grows.
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: 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.