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UNHCR - New Mediterranean boat tragedy may be biggest ever, urgent action is needed now

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UNHCR - New Mediterranean boat tragedy may be biggest ever, urgent action is needed now

19 April 2015

UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres today expressed his shock at the latest boat capsizing on the Mediterranean, and the hundreds of lives reported to have been lost.

As of a short time ago, according to information from the Maltese authorities, only around 50 of the 700 reported to be aboard, had been rescued.

Should these numbers be confirmed, the incident - which happened overnight - will be the largest loss of life from any incident on the Mediterranean involving refugees and migrants. It follows an incident only last week in which 400 lives were lost. The Lampedusa disaster of October 2013 saw almost 600 lives lost in two separate incidents.

Available information is that the boat overturned shortly before midnight on Saturday, in Libyan waters, some 180 kilometers south of Italy's Lampedusa. Italian and Maltese naval vessels and merchant ships have been among the approximately 20 vessels, along with several helicopters, that are engaged in the rescue operation being coordinated by the Italian authorities.

UNHCR is currently awaiting confirmation on where the survivors are being taken.

"This disaster confirms how urgent it is to restore a robust rescue-at-sea operation and establish credible legal avenues to reach Europe. Otherwise people seeking safety will continue to perish at sea," said António Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Refugees. "But it also points to the need for a comprehensive European approach to address the root causes that drive so many people to this tragic end. I hope the EU will rise to the occasion, fully assuming a decisive role to prevent future such tragedies."

UNHCR has been advocating for an urgent response from the European Union to deal with the challenges faced by the thousands of people risking their lives to find safety in Europe. A comprehensive set of proposals has been shared by UNHCR, including a more robust search-and-rescue operation as well as credible legal avenue to reach safety - such as resettlement, humanitarian visas, and enhanced family reunification.

So far in 2015, more than 35,000 asylum seekers and migrants have arrived by boat in southern Europe and - if today's toll is confirmed - some 1600 have died. In 2014, around 219,000 people crossed the Mediterranean, and 3,500 lives were lost.

News contacts:

UNHCR Headquarters, Switzerland

  • Adrian Edwards: +41 79 557 9120
  • Melissa Fleming: +41 79 557 9122
  • William Spindler: +41 79 217 3011


  • Federico Fossi: +39 349 0843461
  • Barbara Molinario: +39 06 802 123 33


  • Fabrizio Ellul: +356 9969 0081