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Assistant High Commissioner in Madrid and the Canary Islands

Briefing notes

Assistant High Commissioner in Madrid and the Canary Islands

23 May 2006

The Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, Erika Feller, is in Madrid today for the opening of a conference on "Rescue at Sea and Maritime Interception in the Mediterranean." The conference, organised by UNHCR with funding from the European Union, aims to foster greater understanding of the dynamics of maritime movements and to promote practical and effective cooperation between Mediterranean states to respond to the humanitarian and protection dimensions of irregular migration.

Feller will also visit the Canary Islands where, in recent weeks, hundreds of people have arrived by sea from North Africa. She is due to meet with the local authorities and to visit recent arrivals at a reception centre in Las Palmas. Last week, Feller was in Mauritania, where she met the authorities and discussed how and where UNHCR can contribute to better management of the problem.

The rising death toll at sea stemming from movements from North Africa has put the issue of irregular migration on the international agenda. Thousands of lives have been lost over the last decade.

People taking the perilous sea journey, crammed in unseaworthy vessels, do so for a variety of reasons. Although the majority tend to be economic migrants, a proportion of those travelling across the Mediterranean - and, inevitably, of those dying in the attempt - are refugees.

UNHCR sees itself as a partner in a broad collaborative response to the challenges posed by mixed flows of migrants, asylum seekers and refugees. These challenges demand responses which address the specific needs and rights of the individuals involved, including the prompt identification of those in need of international protection.