Hundreds of new arrivals in Italy from Libya and Tunisia

Briefing Notes, 16 August 2011

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 16 August 2011, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

Almost 2,000 people arrived on the Italian island of Lampedusa over the weekend from Libya and Tunisia. The majority, some 1,800, set sail from Janzour, 12 kilometers west of Tripoli, Libya, where they had waited for over a week for calm sea conditions to depart. Of this number there were some 200 women and 30 children.

From interviews with some of the new arrivees, it's apparent that people are continuing to leave for a variety of reasons. A group of Sudanese men told UNHCR staff that they were rounded up in Tripoli and forced onto a boat. Others said they had lost jobs in Libya and were hoping for work in Europe.

Of the 52,000 people who have arrived in Italy as part of this year's North Africa outflow, 27,000 of these departed from Libya and the rest from Tunisia. All those arriving from Tunisia have been Tunisian. From Libya, we have seen some 134 arrivals with Libyan nationality, as well as significant numbers of Nigerians, Ghanaians, and Malians. Of the approximately 2000 Eritreans and Somalis, many had previously registered with UNHCR in Libya. UNHCR supports initiatives by the Italian Government for voluntary assisted repatriation of people found not to be in need of international protection.

To date more than 1,500 people have lost their lives attempting to reach Italy's shores, often because of unseaworthy vessels and an absence of qualified skippers onboard.

UNHCR is particularly concerned by an ongoing trend of refugees awaiting resettlement interviews in Tunisia crossing back into Libya to board boats for Europe. A mass information campaign in the camps is underway highlighting the risks of this journey.

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