Close sites icon close
Search form

Search for the country site.

Country profile

Country website

UNHCR launches North Africa transit project

Briefing notes

UNHCR launches North Africa transit project

1 February 2005

UNHCR is launching a one-year project to look into the complex issue of transit migration from sub-Sahara Africa into Europe and its impact on refugee protection. The project, financed by the European Commission, is an important and in many ways pioneering initiative for UNHCR. In recent years, the refugee agency has become increasingly concerned that, in their efforts to combat illegal migration, both the EU and transit countries are tending to overlook the needs of asylum seekers who are often mixed in with illegal migrants. This project is a first step towards understanding the link between transit migration and refugees and creating a protection space for asylum seekers while they are in transit.

The project will focus on the North Africa region, which in recent years has become a central transit point from Africa into Europe. It has three main objectives: to increase the knowledge and understanding of transit migration in North Africa, to strengthen protection mechanisms for refugees and asylum seekers in the region, and to develop a multilateral strategy to address the consequences of rescue and interception at sea of boats carrying people trying to reach Europe.

Every year, an unknown number of people die on the trip from Africa to Europe - many of them at sea. Because the refugee dimension of transit migration has so far been largely ignored, comparatively little is known about the number of potential refugees who find it necessary to risk their lives with illegal traffickers in order to reach Europe. More information is urgently needed to help all those concerned develop solutions to put an end to this tragic waste of human lives. The refugee agency will seek testimony from asylum seekers, engage in a debate with the authorities in the North African countries concerned, and stress the need for a multilateral approach to finding solutions. Special attention will be paid to the issue of interception at sea, and what happens to asylum seekers intercepted.