UNHCR Calls on Countries to Protect Syrian Refugees and Ensure Access to Territory; Syrians are Now Largest Nationality Using Sea Routes to Reach Italy

In a statement made earlier today, UNHCR noted the “growing numbers of Syrians seeking safety in Europe” and expressed its concern “about severe difficulties these displaced people face during their passage and at borders. This includes the risk of drowning at sea and incidents where Syrians have been dangerously hindered in their journeys.”

UNHCR estimates that 6,233 Syrians have arrived in Italy by boat since August compared with about 350 in all of 2012. Earlier this week the Italian Interior Ministry reported that Syrians are now the largest nationality arriving in Italy; so far in 2013, approximately 25,000 migrants have arrived in Italy by boat, of these 9,805 were Syrian, 8,843 Eritrean, 3,140 Somali, 1,058 from Mali, and 879 Afghan.  The Interior Ministry believes the majority departed from Libyan territory. (The Italian Ministry’s statistics vary from the UNHCR’s statistics but both sets of statistics confirm the increasing numbers of Syrians.)

Excerpts from the UNHCR statement:

There are “growing numbers of Syrians trying to cross the Mediterranean from Egypt to Italy because of anxiety about their security. Many mention physical assaults, verbal threats, detention and deportation. The Egyptian government estimates that some 250,000 to 300,000 Syrians currently reside in Egypt, of whom more than 122,000 are registered with UNHCR.”

There are an “increasing number of unaccompanied children making the voyage…. As the cost of travel can range from U$2,000-US$5,000 per person, some families opt to send their children alone or with relatives or friends.”

“UNHCR notes with concern that over 800 Syrians have been arrested in Egypt since August for attempting to illegally depart and 144, including 44 children, have been deported to third countries. …Although charges have not been laid, approximately 589 Syrians remain in administrative detention, including women and 84 children. UNHCR is seeking access to the detained in order to properly verify numbers, conditions, and needs, or provide legal assistance.”

“UNHCR is calling [on the EU and other partners] for a number of measures to prevent further tragedies and increase responsibility sharing.  UNHCR calls upon states beyond Syria’s immediate region to explore concrete and meaningful ways of expressing solidarity, notably with a view to sharing the immense burden and protection responsibilities currently being assumed by the countries neighbouring Syria and its vicinity, such as Egypt. Warning signs in some hosting countries testify to the potentially destabilizing impact of the Syrian refugee influx that aggravates the already severe political, security, and economic repercussions of the Syria conflict.”

Click here for full UNHCR statement.

Click here for ANSA article.

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