Mediterranean boat capsizing: deadliest incident on record

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

UNHCR has now interviewed most of the survivors of Saturday's boat tragedy in the Mediterranean. According to the survivors, their boat departed from Tripoli in Libya on Saturday morning with some 850 people on board, including many children. Among those on board were some 350 Eritreans, as well as people from Syria, Somalia, Sierra Leone, Mali, Senegal, Gambia, Ivory Coast and Ethiopia.

Only 28 people are known to have survived the shipwreck, including a young man from Bangladesh who was transported by helicopter to a hospital in Catania, Sicily, on Sunday, and 27 people who were disembarked later by the Italian Coast Guard in Catania. From available information and the various accounts we've had, UNHCR now believes the number of fatalities to have been over 800, making this the deadliest incident in the Mediterranean we have ever recorded.

ADDITIONAL: Summary of spoken comments by Volker Türk, Assistant High Commissioner for Protection (made in reference to the EU Joint Foreign and Home Affairs Council 10-point action plan on migration of 20 April 2015)

UNHCR welcomes the EU responsibility-sharing measures contained in the plan, such as asylum processing, relocation, and resettlement, which provide a welcome starting point for this response. UNHCR would also urge that such measures be expanded to further strengthen the asylum and protection component of the plan, including:

  • Developing a robust search and rescue operation, along the lines of Mare Nostrum, which places an emphasis on saving thousands of lives;
  • Making a firm commitment to receive a significant number of refugees for resettlement;
  • Providing legal alternatives, such as enhanced family reunification, private sponsorship schemes, and work and study visas, so that persons in need of international protection do not need to resort to such dangerous voyages;
  • Including a system of support for those countries receiving the most arrivals (Italy and Greece), and;
  • Distributing responsibility for arrivals to avoid the current situation where a few countries are receiving most asylum-seekers, mainly Germany and Sweden, including through a comprehensive application of Dublin III and an intra-EU pilot relocation project for Syrians.

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