Boat arrivals on Lampedusa

Briefing Notes, 15 March 2011

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 15 March 2011, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

In the last 24 hours, 22 boats carrying over 1,600 persons, nearly all young Tunisian males, have landed on the small Italian island of Lampedusa. This brings the total number of Tunisians having arrived in Italy since mid-January to just over 10,000. It seems that departures are taking place from various locations along the Tunisian coastline. UNHCR staff are present on Lampedusa and are trying to help the Italian authorities deal with this situation.

The outflow from Tunisia is unrelated to the ongoing crisis in Libya. From our interactions with Tunisians arriving in Italy over past weeks, we believe that most are seeking employment and better economic opportunities, rather than international protection.

UN staff and partners in Tunisia report that some villages appear largely empty of their young male population, with only women, children and elderly people remaining. This type of outflow is not atypical of countries in transition, and we are well aware of the many demands on the Tunisian authorities at present. Solutions to this type of flow need to be found in dialogue between the concerned governments, including arrangements for the orderly and dignified return of persons who are found not to be in need of international protection, and the establishment of opportunities for labor migration which can meet the needs of countries on both sides of the Mediterranean.