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Migrant and refugee boat tragedy and irregular departures from Egypt

Briefing notes

Migrant and refugee boat tragedy and irregular departures from Egypt

23 September 2016 Also available in:

UNHCR is deeply saddened by the loss of life after yet another boat capsized in the Mediterranean, this time off the coast of Rosetta, Egypt, reportedly carrying around 450 people.

At least 42 bodies have reportedly been recovered. Currently 150 people (of whom 43 were non-Egyptians, including 26 Sudanese, 13 Eritreans, 2 Somalis, 1 Syrian, and 1 Ethiopian) have been rescued in an operation by the Egyptian authorities involving the army and navy.

The Egyptian authorities have ordered police to arrest smugglers responsible for the deaths, opening an investigation into the incident, and to provide necessary care to the survivors.

Egypt has a long history of providing asylum to refugees and at the same time is a traditional route of irregular migration to Europe by sea.

Since 2014, there has been a steady increase in the number of interceptions of refugees and migrants trying to leave Egypt in an irregular manner. For 2016 to date, over 4,600 foreign nationals, predominantly Sudanese, Somalis, Eritreans and Ethiopians, have been arrested for attempting irregular departure from the Northern Coast, which is 28 per cent more than the whole of 2015. The numbers in 2015 were also higher than 2014.

The overall number of irregular Mediterranean Sea arrivals in Italy was stable in the first half (115,068 in Jan-Aug 2016) from a year earlier (116,149 in Jan-Aug 2015). The proportion of departures from Egypt to Italy has been volatile but rose to 9%, as of July 31 2016, from 5% a year earlier. On the Egypt to Italy route, a significant number of unaccompanied minors have been recorded.

Increasing mixed migration flows through Egypt are of major concern to UNHCR. The loss of life faced by refugees and migrants on Mediterranean smuggling routes has increased.

Despite the total number of Mediterranean crossings this year (300,000) being 42% lower than during the same period last year (520,000) -- primarily as a result of fewer crossings to Greece -- the number of people reported dead or missing so far this year (3,498) is only 8% lower than the total number of casualties for the whole of 2015 (3,771). At this rate, 2016 will be the deadliest year on record in the Mediterranean Sea.

Meantime, UNHCR Egypt has observed that many refugees and migrants may be using Egypt as a transit country, highlighting the need to address the root causes of mixed migration in their countries of origin.

UNHCR works closely with the authorities to verify the registration status of refugees and asylum seekers in detention and to facilitate their prompt release.

The Government of Egypt typically releases individuals registered with UNHCR from detention after an average of 15 days, in accordance with its international obligations to protect the right of those fleeing conflict and persecution. UNHCR has observed that many attempt to depart again shortly after their release. Those who are not registered with UNHCR are at risk of deportation and UNHCR is concerned that there may still be asylum seekers among them and requests access to them.

During the period of detention, UNHCR and partners also provide detainees with all basic items, including food and medical support.

As of 31 August, 187,838 refugees and asylum-seekers have been registered with UNHCR in Egypt, with 116,175 Syrian (62 %) followed by 31,200 Sudanese, 10,941 Ethiopians, 7,254 Somalis, and 7,000 Iraqis, among others.

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