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Italy, Malta receive first boats from Libya, stretching asylum capacity

Briefing notes

Italy, Malta receive first boats from Libya, stretching asylum capacity

29 March 2011

In the last four days, we have seen the first boat arrivals into Europe directly from Libya since the outbreak of conflict there. Over 2,000 non-Libyans have fled Tripoli by boat to Italy and Malta, stretching reception capacities for people possibly in need of protection.

Five boats have arrived in Italy since Saturday evening carrying 1,484 people. Two boats arrived in Malta yesterday with 535 passengers. Most of them are Eritreans and Somalis, with many women and children among them, but there are also Ethiopians, Sudanese and a number of other nationalities. To date Libyans do not appear to be among those arriving in either country.

Passengers from the first boat disembarked on the tiny island of Linosa, some 50 km north-east of Lampedusa. Two other boats arrived in Italy on Sunday and were also disembarked on Linosa before being transferred by ferry to Sicily. Two further boats arrived early this morning, one in Sicily and the other in Lampedusa.

A woman gave birth at sea while awaiting rescue, while two others suffered miscarriages during the ordeal at sea or after landing in Linosa. Most of the new arrivals slept outside over the weekend before being transferred to reception facilities in Sicily.

UNHCR is discussing contingency planning with the Italian and Maltese authorities and Red Cross, as there are indications that more arrivals from Libya can be expected. As of this morning there were unconfirmed reports of a number of boats in distress on the Mediterranean carrying more people fleeing from Libya.

The reception capacity of the larger Italian island of Lampedusa is already over-stretched following the arrival of thousands of Tunisians over the past weeks. Since mid-January 19,000 Tunisians, mostly young men seeking employment, have arrived on Lampedusa. While 13,000 have been transferred to reception centres in Sicily and mainland Italy, over 6,000 Tunisian migrants remain, outnumbering the local population of some 5,000 people.

The ongoing flow of Tunisians, most of whom are not seeking international protection, puts a particular strain on Italy's ability to respond to the arrival of asylum seekers and refugees fleeing the violence in Libya. UNHCR appeals to the European Union institutions and Member States to support Italy to deal with these new challenges.

UNHCR is grateful to Italy and Malta for their reception of the new arrivals from Libya and urges other European Union countries to demonstrate solidarity with these front line countries.

Futher information for journalists on arrivals in Libya's neighbouring states:

On 27 March, Egyptian immigration authorities processed 2,055 people entering the Egyptian border of Salloum from Libya including 367 Egyptians, 1,154 Libyans, 184 Nigerians, 121 Chadians, 88 Sudanese and 46 Syrians. On the same day, Tunisian authorities at the Ras Adjir border reported that 906 people crossed the border from Libya including 207 Egyptians, 206 Bangladeshis, 136 Chadians and 134 Eritreans.

In addition to the arrivals in Italy and Malta, as of 27 March 381,888 people have fled the violence in Libya. This includes over 193,783 to Tunisia (including 19,541 Tunisian, 23,184 Libyans and 145,476 others), 156,471 to Egypt (including 79,020 Egyptians, 32,679 Libyans and 44,772 others), 15,647 to Niger (including 14,698 Nigerien and 949 others), 9,987 to Algeria (including land, air and sea evacuations), 3,200 to Chad and 2,800 to Sudan.

For media queries on this topic, please contact:
In Geneva Sybella Wilkes on mobile +41 79 557 91 38
In Rome, Federico Fossi on office no. +39 06 802 123 18
In Valetta, Fabrizio Ellul on mobile +356 99 69 0081