Italy: Surge in sea arrivals from Libya

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Ron Redmond to whom quoted text may be attributed at today's press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

The last week has seen a spate of arrivals on Italy's shores, with over a thousand boat people embarking on the hazardous crossing from Libya. Most of the migrants and asylum seekers landed in Lampedusa, while 41 reached the island of Pantelleria and 35 were rescued off the coast of Sardinia in two separate incidents last weekend.

Arrivals in Lampedusa from 22-27 February totalled 1,104 people (including 87 women and 84 children). The largest boat, which carried 368 people, was among a handful which reached Lampedusa unaided, while those on board most of the rubber dinghies and fishing-boats heading to Lampedusa were rescued south of the island by the Italian maritime authorities.

The arrivals set a new record for this time of the year, when the number of crossings is generally limited due to harsh weather conditions. Only 148 migrants landed in Lampedusa in January 2007, while 344 people reached the island in January this year. Arrivals so far this month currently number 1,855. This compares to a total of 345 for the whole month of February last year. We don't know the reasons behind this increase.

Most of the migrants are Somalis, Tunisians, Nigerians, Moroccans, Ghanaians, Palestinians and Algerians. Last year, a total of 19,900 people arrived in Italy's islands or the mainland by boat from North Africa, compared with 22,000 in 2006. At least 471 were reported dead or missing in 2007.

Italy's coasts are the key point of entry for potential asylum seekers in Italy, with roughly 30 percent of arrivals subsequently applying for asylum in 2007. Of those boat people who lodged asylum applications in 2007, some 65 percent were granted a form of protection,

A permanent team staffed by UNHCR and its project partners, the Italian Red Cross and the International Organization for Migration (IOM), has been operating on the island of Lampedusa since March 2006. The 'PRAESIDIUM II' project, which is co-funded by the European Union ARGO programme and the Italian Interior Ministry, aims to strengthen reception capacities and services for those fleeing persecution and armed conflict who risk their lives to cross the Straits of Sicily.