Malta: Spanish trawler waits offshore, UNHCR calls for EU burden-sharing

Briefing Notes, 18 July 2006

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 18 July 2006, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

The Spanish fishing trawler "Francisco Catalina", which rescued 51 people (42 men, 8 women and a baby, most of them apparently from Eritrea) in the Mediterranean on Friday (14 July), has been standing off the Maltese coast since Saturday and still has not been authorized to dock in Malta.

UNHCR has been in contact with the Maltese authorities to express humanitarian concern for the group, some of whom may be refugees in need of international protection, and to underline the urgent need to disembark them as soon as possible in a place where they can receive assistance.

UNHCR fully understands the difficulties and concerns of the Maltese authorities and the considerable challenges posed by the repeated arrivals of mixed groups of migrants, asylum seekers and refugees in various Mediterranean countries. However, given the urgency of the situation and for practical considerations, UNHCR is appealing to governments in the region to allow the disembarkation and admission of the 51 people to their territory, at least on a temporary basis.

UNHCR is also calling on EU member states to work with and support Malta to find an appropriate solution to this kind of situation in a spirit of solidarity and burden-sharing.

UNHCR praises the captain and crew of the "Francisco Catalina" for their humanitarian act and requests all the relevant authorities to do everything in their power to ensure that the trawler can continue its journey as scheduled as soon as possible and with minimum further disruption.