UNHCR - Statement on boat incident off Greece coast

Press Releases, 21 January 2014

UNHCR is dismayed to have learned of a boat cap-sizing off the coast of Greece in the early hours of this morning, which has left a woman and a child dead and 10 other people missing, among them infants and children.

According to accounts from some of the 16 survivors and Greek Coast Guard, the vessel was carrying 26 Afghans and two Syrians. It was intercepted in the southern Aegean Sea shortly after midnight following a mechanical breakdown and while apparently en route from Turkey to Greece. The boat, with all 28 passengers still aboard, was being towed by a Coast Guard vessel when it capsized. The survivors, now on the island of Leros, told UNHCR they were being towed in the direction of Turkey at the time of the accident.

"UNHCR is urging the authorities to investigate this incident and how lives were lost on a boat that was under tow," said Laurens Jolles, UNHCR's Southern Europe Regional Representative. "In addition survivors need to be quickly moved to the mainland so that their needs can be better looked after."

Tuesday's incident is the first of its kind in 2014, and the latest in a string of recent boat disasters in the Mediterranean involving people fleeing by sea towards Europe. More than 360 people died on October 3rd 2013 in a capsizing off of Italy's Lampedusa. Several other deadly incidents were reported over the following weeks.

Irregular boat crossings of the Mediterranean typically involve a mix of migrants and asylum seekers but conflict in Syria and the Horn of Africa region is being reflected in recent higher numbers of deaths of people fleeing refugee-producing countries.

In 2013, some 40,000 people arrived by irregularly by boat in Italy, Malta, and Greece. This compares to more than 60,000 in 2011 during the Libya crisis. Irregular boat crossings of the Mediterranean typically occur between March and October during the Spring and summer months, however this year they have been continuing throughout the winter, despite the extreme weather conditions. So far in Italy alone, over 1,700 people have arrived by sea.

UNHCR has urged European and other governments to work together to reduce losses of life among people making dangerous sea journeys across the Mediterranean and the world's other major sea frontiers, including by continuing to strengthen search and rescue operations, as well as the creation of legal migration alternatives to dangerous irregular movements.

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UNHCR's Nansen Refugee Award 2015

Aqeela Asifi, an Afghan refugee living in Pakistan, has been named the 2015 winner of UNHCR's Nansen Refugee Award. Asifi has dedicated her adult life to educating refugee girls. Despite minimal resources and significant cultural challenges, hundreds of girls have now passed through her school, equipped with life-long skills and brighter hopes for their futures.

Asifi fled from Kabul in 1992 with her young family. They found refuge in the desolate Kot Chandana refugee village in the south-eastern Punjab province of Pakistan. Adjusting from life in a capital city and working as a teacher, to living in a dusty refugee village was difficult. She was especially struck by the total absence of schools for girls.

It took time but eventually Asifi was allowed to start a small school under a tent. Over the years the school expanded and received the hard-won backing of community elders. Asifi's dedication has helped guide more than 1,000 girls through to the eighth grade and encouraged more schools to open in the village. Another 1,500 young people (900 girls, 650 boys) are enrolled in six schools throughout the refugee village today.

UNHCR's Nansen Refugee Award 2015

Thousands of desperate Syrian refugees seek safety in Turkey after outbreak of fresh fighting

Renewed fighting in northern Syria since June 3 has sent a further 23,135 refugees fleeing across the border into Turkey's southern Sanliurfa province. Some 70 per cent of these are women and children, according to information received by UNHCR this week.

Most of the new arrivals are Syrians escaping fighting between rival military forces in and around the key border town of Tel Abyad, which faces Akcakale across the border. They join some 1.77 million Syrian refugees already in Turkey.

However, the influx also includes so far 2,183 Iraqis from the cities of Mosul, Ramadi and Falujjah.

According to UNHCR field staff most of the refugees are exhausted and arrive carrying just a few belongings. Some have walked for days. In recent days, people have fled directly to Akcakale to escape fighting in Tel Abyad which is currently reported to be calm.

Thousands of desperate Syrian refugees seek safety in Turkey after outbreak of fresh fighting

Cold, Uncomfortable and Hungry in Calais

For years, migrants and asylum-seekers have flocked to the northern French port of Calais in hopes of crossing the short stretch of sea to find work and a better life in England. This hope drives many to endure squalid, miserable conditions in makeshift camps, lack of food and freezing temperatures. Some stay for months waiting for an opportunity to stow away on a vehicle making the ferry crossing.

Many of the town's temporary inhabitants are fleeing persecution or conflict in countries such as Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iraq, Sudan and Syria. And although these people are entitled to seek asylum in France, the country's lack of accommodation, administrative hurdles and language barrier, compel many to travel on to England where many already have family waiting.

With the arrival of winter, the crisis in Calais intensifies. To help address the problem, French authorities have opened a day centre as well as housing facilities for women and children. UNHCR is concerned with respect to the situation of male migrants who will remain without shelter solutions. Photographer Julien Pebrel recently went to Calais to document their lives in dire sites such as the Vandamme squat and next to the Tioxide factory.

Cold, Uncomfortable and Hungry in Calais

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