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.

Media Contacts

  • Ketty Kehayioylou (Athens) +30 694 02 77 485
  • Adrian Edwards (Geneva) +41 79 557 9120
  • Dan McNorton (Geneva) +41 79 217 3011
• DONATE NOW •

 

• GET INVOLVED • • STAY INFORMED •

Syria Emergency: Urgent Appeal

You can help save the lives of thousands of refugees

Donate to this crisis

A Face in a Million: the Struggle of Syria's Refugees in Lebanon

They are everywhere in Lebanon - 1 million Syrian refugees, in a land of 4.8 million people. There are no refugee camps in Lebanon. Instead, most rent apartments and others live in makeshift shelters and in garages, factories and prisons. Three years after the Syria crisis began, Lebanon has become the country with the highest concentration per capita of refugees in the world. It's struggling to keep pace with the influx. Rents have spiked, accommodation is scarce; food prices are rising. Meanwhile, a generation could be lost. Half of Syria's refugees are children; most don't go to school. Instead many of them work to help their families survive. Some marry early, others must beg to make a bit of money. Yet they share the same dream of getting an education.

In the northern city of Tripoli, many of the Syrians live in Al Tanak district, dubbed "Tin City." Long home to poor locals, it is now a surreal suburb - garbage piled to one side, a Ferris wheel on the other. The inhabitants share their dwellings with rats. "They're as big as cats," said one. "They're not scared of us, we're scared of them."

Award-winning photojournalist Lynsey Addario visited Tin City and other areas of Lebanon with UNHCR to show the faces and suffering of Syrians to the world. Addario, in publications such as The New York Times and National Geographic, has highlighted the victims of conflict and rights abuse around the world, particularly women.

A Face in a Million: the Struggle of Syria's Refugees in Lebanon

Syria Crisis Third Anniversary: A Child of the Conflict

Ashraf was born the very day the Syria conflict began: March 15, 2011. He is the seventh child in a family from Homs. Within a week of his birth, the conflict arrived in his neighbourhood. For months his family rarely left the house. Some days there was non-stop bombing, others were eerily quiet. On the quiet days, Ashraf's mother made a run with him to the local health clinic for vaccinations and check-ups.

When Ashraf was about 18 months old, his aunt, uncle and cousin were murdered - their throats slit - as the boy slept nearby in his family's home. Terrified that they were next, Ashraf's family crammed into their car, taking a few precious belongings, and drove to the border.

They left behind their home, built by Ashraf's father and uncle. Within days the house was looted and destroyed. Photographer Andrew McConnell visited the family at their new home, in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley, which was also built by Ashraf's father and uncle. Located on the edge of a muddy field, it is a patchwork of plastic sheeting, canvas and scrap metal. The floor is covered with blankets and mattresses from UNHCR. They now face new challenges such as the daily battle to keep the children warm, dry and protected from rats. Ashraf still starts at sudden loud noises, but the doctor told his mother that the boy would get used to it.

Syria Crisis Third Anniversary: A Child of the Conflict

Forced to grow up too soon in Lebanon: Mahmoud

Mahmoud,15, hasn't been to school in 3 years. In his native Syria, his parents were afraid to send him because of the civil war. They ended up fleeing a year ago when, in the early morning hours, a bomb fell on a nearby house. The family, still groggy from being jolted awake, grabbed what they could and fled to Lebanon. Their home and the local school have since been destroyed.

In Lebanon, Mahmoud's father is unable to find work and now the family can barely afford rent.

A month ago, Mahmoud started working for tips cleaning fish at a small shop next to his home. He makes about $60 USD a month. With this money he helps pay rent on his family's tiny underground room, shared between his parents and eight brothers and sisters. Mahmoud is proud to help his family but with the fish shop located in the same subterranean structure as his home, he barely goes out into the sunshine.

Children like Mahmoud, some as young as seven, often work long hours for little pay, and in some cases in dangerous conditions. These children forfeit their future by missing out on an education and the carefree years of childhood. Many are also traumatized by what they witnessed back in Syria.

UNHCR and its partners together with local governments are providing financial assistance to help vulnerable Syrian refugee families cover expenses like rent and medical care, which means there is less need to pull children out of school and put them to work. UN agencies and their partners have also established case management and referral systems in Jordan and Lebanon to identify children at risk and refer them to the appropriate services.

Forced to grow up too soon in Lebanon: Mahmoud

Syria: Aid Reaches Eastern AleppoPlay video

Syria: Aid Reaches Eastern Aleppo

An agreement between the Syrian Government and the opposition allows UNHCR and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent to deliver humanitarian assistance to the besieged city of Aleppo.
Jordan: Syrian Refugees' Housing CrisisPlay video

Jordan: Syrian Refugees' Housing Crisis

Hundreds of thousands of refugees living in urban areas are struggling to survive. They face rising rents, inadequate accommodation, and educational challenges for their children.
Jordan: Shahad Finds her VoicePlay video

Jordan: Shahad Finds her Voice

Four-year-old Shahad is among hundreds of thousands of Syrian children suffering from the traumatic effects of the war in Syria. After a bomb attack on her family home, she stopped speaking.