Category Archives: UNHCR

11 Dead, 34 Missing in Gulf of Aden – Smugglers Forced Passengers Into Sea

The UNHCR reported on 10 February that at least 11 persons drowned and 34 are missing after their boat capsized in the Gulf of Aden. The boat left Somalia for Yemen on 4 February, became disabled and drifted, and then capsized on 8 February in bad weather.  UNHCR reported that “[s]hocking details came to light [on 9 February] as survivors recounted to local authorities and our partners how smugglers forced 22 passengers overboard soon after the engine failed. … So far, 11 bodies have been recovered on beaches around the village of Ceelaayo some 30 kilometers west of Bossaso. Locals also found 13 survivors, including two women and a teenage boy and girl….”

This latest disaster occurs after an almost 100% increase in the number of refugees, asylum-seekers, and migrants crossing the Gulf of Aden and Red Sea from Africa to Yemen in 2011 compared to 2010.  103,000 migrants are estimated to have made the sea crossing in 2011 compared to an estimated 53,000 in 2010.  130 persons are known to have drowned in 2011.

Click here for UNHCR report.

Click here for my last post on the 2011 statistics.

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Mare Deserto: RSI documentary about the failure to rescue and subsequent deaths of 60 migrants in the Mediterranean in March 2011

RSI LA1, the Swiss Italian-language television network, last month broadcasted a one hour documentary,  Mare deserto , produced by Emiliano Bos and Paul Nicol.  The documentary is in Italian.  It investigates the events that occurred between 25 March and 10 April 2011 when a disabled migrant boat attempting to travel from Libya to Italy drifted for days during which time approximately 60 persons died.  Survivors from the migrant boat reported that at various times military ships and helicopters ignored their requests for assistance.  The producers located and interviewed 9 of the known survivors in Italy, Tunisia and Norway.

Click here or here for a link to the documentary.  (IT)

Click here and here for some of my previous posts on the incident and the ongoing PACE investigation into the incident.

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Filed under Council of Europe, Italy, Libya, Mediterranean, News, Reports, UNHCR

UNHCR: “Mediterranean takes record as most deadly stretch of water for refugees and migrants in 2011”

Full Text of UNHCR Briefing Note, 31 January:

“This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Sybella Wilkes – to whom quoted text may be attributed – at the press briefing, on 31 January 2012, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

According to UNHCR estimates, more than 1,500 people drowned or went missing while attempting to cross the Mediterranean to reach Europe in 2011. This makes 2011 the deadliest year for this region since UNHCR started to record these statistics in 2006. The previous high was in 2007 when 630 people were reported dead or missing.

Last year is also a record in terms of the massive number of arrivals in Europe via the Mediterranean, with more than 58,000 people arriving. The previous high was in 2008 when 54,000 people reached Greece, Italy and Malta. During 2009 and 2010, border control measures sharply reduced arrivals in Europe. The frequency of boat arrivals increased in early 2011 as the regimes in Tunisia and Libya collapsed.

Our teams in Greece, Italy, Libya and Malta, warn that the actual number of deaths at sea may be even higher. Our estimates are based on interviews with people who reached Europe on boats, telephone calls and e-mails from relatives, as well as reports from Libya and Tunisia from survivors whose boats either sank or were in distress in the early stages of the journey.

Survivors told UNHCR staff harrowing stories of being forced onboard by armed guards, particularly during April and May in Libya. The actual journey took place on unseaworthy vessels with refugee and migrant passengers often forced into having to skipper boats themselves. In addition, some survivors told UNHCR that fellow passengers beat and tortured them. Judicial investigations are ongoing in Italy following these reports.

The majority of last year’s arrivals by sea landed in Italy (56,000, of whom 28,000 were Tunisian) while Malta and Greece received 1,574 and 1,030 respectively. The vast majority arrived in the first half of the year. Most were migrants, not asylum-seekers. Only three boats landed from mid-August to the end of the year. In addition, according to Greek government figures, some 55,000 irregular migrants crossed the Greek-Turkish land border at Evros.

We are disturbed that since the beginning of 2012, despite high seas and poor weather conditions, three boats have attempted this perilous journey from Libya, with one going missing at sea. This boat, carrying at least 55 people raised the alarm on 14 January, warning of engine failure. Libyan coast guards informed UNHCR that 15 dead bodies, all identified as Somali, were found washed up on the beaches last week, including 12 women, two men and a baby girl. On Sunday, three more bodies were recovered. It was confirmed later that all those that perished were Somali residents of the makeshift site in Tripoli known as the Railway Project.

The other two boats that made it to Malta and Italy in January required rescuing. The first rescue of 72 Somali nationals by the Italian coast guard took place on 13 January. Those rescued included a pregnant woman and 29 children.

The second boat was rescued by the Maltese Armed Forces on 15 January with the support of the US Navy and a commercial vessel. In total 68 people were rescued from a dinghy found drifting some 56 nautical miles from Malta. A baby girl was born on one of the rescue vessels. Another woman reported a miscarriage during the voyage.

UNHCR welcomes the ongoing efforts of the Italian, Maltese and Libyan authorities to rescue boats in distress in the Mediterranean. We renew our call to all shipmasters in the Mediterranean, one of the busiest stretches of water in the world, to remain vigilant and to carry out their duty of rescuing vessels in distress.

For further information on this topic, please contact:

In Rome: Laura Boldrini on mobile +39 33 55 403 194

In Valetta: Fabrizio Ellul on mobile +356 99 69 0081

In Geneva: Sybella Wilkes on mobile +41 79 557 91 38”

Click here for link to statement.

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Filed under Data / Stats, European Union, Greece, Italy, Libya, Malta, Mediterranean, News, Statements, Tunisia, UNHCR

UNHCR: Record Number of Refugees and Migrants Cross to Yemen in 2011

The UNHCR reports that there has been an almost 100% increase in the number of refugees, asylum-seekers, and migrants who crossed the Gulf of Aden and Red Sea from Africa to Yemen in 2011 compared to 2010.  103,000 migrants are estimated to have made the sea crossing in 2011 compared to an estimated 53,000 in 2010.  130 persons are known to have drowned.  Ethiopians now make up the largest nationality making the voyage, accounting for about 75% of the total.  Prior to 2009 Somalis were the largest group.

Click here (EN), here (EN) and here (FR) for UNHCR statements.

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Filed under Data / Stats, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gulf of Aden, News, Somalia, UNHCR, Yemen

Rescued Somali Asylum Seekers in Malta Describe Dangerous Conditions in Libya

The first group of rescued migrants for 2012 arrived in Malta on 15 January after being rescued by an Armed Forces of Malta patrol boat and an Italian cargo ship.  The 68 rescued migrants are Somali asylum seekers and had left Libya four days earlier.  Another boat carrying 72 migrants was rescued by the Italian coastguard on the 13th.  This boat is also believed to have departed from Libya.  UNHCR officials have interviewed the asylum seekers in Malta: “The new arrivals confirmed to UNHCR that the situation in Libya is still not stable and that it is particularly precarious for Sub-Saharan nationals. One Somali woman told UNHCR that they were afraid to go outside the house. Some even described the situation in parts of Libya as being similar to the lawlessness of Somalia. They explained that smugglers provided them with the only possible way out at this point.”  The Times of Malta reported that two of the asylum seekers said “they paid armed Libyan militiamen $400 each to facilitate their crossing of the Mediterranean.”

Click here, here, and here for articles.

Click here (IT) for article.

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ECRE Interview with Tineke Strik Regarding PACE Investigation into Migrants Deaths in Mediterranean

ECRE last week published an interview with Ms Tineke Strike regarding the PACE Migration Committee’s ongoing investigation into the almost 2000 migrant deaths that have occurred in the central Mediterranean this year.  The Committee is focusing in particular on the incident that occurred in late March 2011 when unknown ship(s) and aircraft observed and then failed to rescue a disabled migrant boat.  Approximately 60 persons subsequently died.

Excerpts from the ECRE interview:

“[***]  What are the main findings of your report on the death at the Mediterranean so far?

We have spoken with survivors and with the priest who received the request for assistance from the boat in distress, Italian border guards, and the Italian refugee agency, as well as the Italian Refugee Council (CIR), a Member of ECRE. We also talked to different people in Brussels, including NATO, the ambassador of the Council of Europe, Amnesty and several MEPs. Today, during the PACE hearing on November 30 in Paris, we had a discussion with a number of experts in international law, Frontex, UNHCR and ICRC. All in all a lot of information has been gathered.

We have already sent requests for information to find out via satellite maps and logs if there were boats near the distressed boat Once we know under which flags these boats were sailing, we will be able to track which governments might have been responsible and ask them whether they knew that the boat asking for help was in danger or not and how they acted upon that information.

We are actually still waiting for information for this information. It is unfortunate that it takes time to get this information but we are trying to get hold of it through different channels. We have approached High Representative Ashton and asked for her consent to provide us with information from the European Satellite Centre. We have already used this kind of information at the Council of Europe, for example to detect the illegal detention centres that the CIA was using. We therefore hope that Ashton once again will cooperate.

We also asked NATO to provide us with information and have asked all the countries who took part in the NATO action in Libya and who had ships in that region during that period to give us data on where their boats were and when. NATO has promised to request the Member States to provide us with this information, also if these boats were not under the command of NATO. If this does not succeed, we still have our own national parliamentarians that could push their governments in their own country if it is necessary to gather the information.

If countries were involved they might not want to admit that, which makes my position difficult. I am not a judge and I don’t have enforcement powers so I’m partly dependent on the cooperation of various parties.  But I think all parties can benefit from transparency on what has happened, in order to avoid such tragedies in the future.

[***]

How do you think the EU has responded to the turmoil and war in North Africa and, in particular, the following displacement of people in the region and the arrival of some of them to Europe?

In my report following the protests in North Africa, we see that by far the largest part of the people who have fled Libya went to Tunisia and Egypt. There was a lot of fuss in the EU about the 25,000 who eventually fled to Italy. Tunisia took half million, Egypt took a half a million which shows how big the contrast with the EU was, especially considering that Member States were reluctant to resettle refugees from camps in Tunisia. This while Tunisia and Egypt were in a very vulnerable position in the post-revolutionary period. If we really want to help and strengthen stability in the region, we must show these states that they are not alone. These countries generously opened their borders, they understood the situation of the people there and to a great extent we stood aside and just watched.

Then we failed to help out Italy and Malta, especially when countries like France and Denmark wanted to close their borders. This shows exactly how much we are still not politically ready for a common asylum system. We provide beautiful public statements but when it comes down to it, Member States do not want to lose their sovereignty or be troubled by developments elsewhere. I do not think you can have both: either you have a joint system and you show solidarity, or you close all the borders and reinvent the wheel.

Common policies go hand in hand with solidarity and in fact we should look beyond the European borders.  What you see now is that border controls at the external borders of the EU continue to shift to North Africa and sometimes even further. One cannot claim that our responsibilities only begin when people have reached our territory. I was therefore very disappointed when the European Commission replied to a question by MEP Hélène Flautre on this incident saying that the boat was in Libyan waters and therefore they had no power to get involved. If certain acts like push backs at high sea or bilateral agreements with unsafe third countries such as Libya, lead to death or inhumane treatment, EU member states or other countries of the Council of Europe are accountable for a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights. In that sense I have high expectations of the decision of the ECHR in the case of Hirsi and others v. Italy.

[***]

What do you think the impact of your work and the investigation will be?

I hope the report will raise the awareness of the international obligations and also the awareness of the importance of avoiding such tragedies. It is important that violating the obligation to rescue does not remain unmentioned or lead to impunity. If we succeed in proving which actors were wrong. Member States will be more careful and there will be more pressure to cooperate and share the responsibilities, and to establish practical and binding solutions. Being a parliamentary assembly of national parliamentarians, I also hope that the discussion will also take place in Member States. I find it really outrageous that such a tragedy can occur so close to our borders and that we have been so silent about it.

[***]”

Click here for full interview.

Click here for my last post on this topic.

 

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Filed under Council of Europe, European Union, Frontex, General, Italy, Libya, Malta, Mediterranean, News, Tunisia, UNHCR

EJML Article, B Nascimbene and A Di Pascale: “The ‘Arab Spring’ and the Extraordinary Influx of People who Arrived in Italy from North Africa”

The latest edition of the European Journal of Migration and Law, Volume 13, Number 4, contains an article by Bruno Nascimbene, Professor of European Union Law, Faculty of Law, University of Milan, and Alessia Di Pascale, Research Fellow, European Union Law, Faculty of Law, University of Milan, entitled “The ‘Arab Spring’ and the Extraordinary Influx of People who Arrived in Italy from North Africa”.

Abstract: “The ‘Arab spring’ which spread in early 2011 and the consequent exceptional influx of people that arrived on the Italian coasts from North Africa put the national reception and asylum systems under particular pressure, also raising the debate on the status to be attributed to these people. Faced with a situation out of the ordinary, Italy immediately addressed a request for help to the European Union, which has revealed the difference of views and mistrust existing between Member States in relation to these issues. This episode also calls into question the scope and effectiveness of the EU migration management framework, particularly in case of strong and unexpected pressure, and its implementation in a true spirit of solidarity.”

Click here for link.  (Subscription or payment required.)

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Filed under Analysis, European Union, Frontex, Italy, Libya, Mediterranean, Tunisia, UNHCR

NATO Reportedly Agrees to Provide Additional Information to PACE Regarding Migrant Deaths in the Mediterranean

The PACE Committee on Migration, Refugees and Population, in connection with the preparation of a report by Ms Tineke Strik (Netherlands, SOC) on the deaths of boat people who have died in the Mediterranean, conducted a hearing in Paris on 29 November.  NATO officials who met with Ms Strik in Brussels before attended the hearing reportedly agreed to provide additional information, which might include satellite imagery, to the PACE Committee.

From PACE Press Statement, 30 November 2011:  “‘With 1971 boatpeople having perished in the Mediterranean Sea while trying to reach European soil from North Africa, the year 2011 sets a sad record as the deadliest year for boatpeople,’ PACE rapporteur Tineke Strik (Netherlands, SOC) said at the end of a hearing on this issue, organised by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) Migration Committee.  ‘Never before the Mediterranean Sea has been as closely monitored as this year because of the war in Libya and still more boat people than ever perished or disappeared,’ the rapporteur added.  ‘Is there a common understanding of a “distress situation”? Is it clear which legal framework is applicable and by whom? Do all ships, even warships, have to proceed with rescue operations even if they are situated beyond established search and rescue zones? Where does legal responsibility start and where does political responsibility end? These are some of the issues we are currently trying to clarify,’ she said.  Mrs Strik’s report will focus on an incident reported in March this year, during which 63 boat people escaping from Libya died after their appeals for rescue had allegedly been ignored. ‘The testimonies of survivors of this incident are coherent, but we have to continue to collect more data and information on who was when and where in the area and we now expect Nato and the EU to provide us with satellite imagery and other relevant information,’ she concluded.”

Click here, here, here, and here for articles.

Click here for PACE Press Statement.

Click here for my last post on the topic.

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PACE to Conduct Hearing: “Lives Lost in the Mediterranean Sea: Who is Responsible?” (Paris, 29 Nov)

The PACE Committee on Migration, Refugees and Population, in connection with the preparation of a report by Ms Tineke Strik (Netherlands, SOC) on the deaths of boat people who have died in the Mediterranean, will conduct a hearing in Paris on 29 November.  Ms Strik was appointed in June 2011 by the PACE Committee as Rapporteur to prepare a report on the deaths of boat people who have died in the Mediterranean since January 2011.

“The hearing will look at the loss of human life at sea, it will examine the right of families to receive information on the victims, and it will consider the rules applicable under international law and maritime law relevant to rescue at sea. The hearing will also examine international co-ordination regarding interception and rescue at sea, as well as the role of the national authorities, NATO and FRONTEX.  The participants include representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, FRONTEX, the Italian Council for Refugees, and the International Institute of Humanitarian Law.”

The hearing seems to be open only to members of the press and will be held at the Council of Europe, 55 avenue Kléber, 75016 PARIS (Metro: Boissière).

Click here and here for more information.

Click here for my last post on this topic.

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Malta Rejects UNHCR Suggestion that Malta Failed to Carry Out SAR Obligations

The Times of Malta reports that the Armed Forces of Malta (AFM) and Maltese SAR authorities have rejected what they characterised as the “impression conveyed” by a UNHCR spokesperson that “Maltese SAR authorities abdicated from their responsibilities and did not cooperate with the relevant Italian authorities” in connection with the search for and subsequent rescue of 44 migrants on board a disabled boat on 9-10 November.  The migrants were rescued by the Italian Navy ship Foscari and transported to Sicily, not to Lampedusa or Malta which were the two closest ports.

The AFM statement reported by the Times of Malta outlines in detail the Maltese response to the distress call from the migrant boat and Malta and Frontex’s participation in the air and sea search.  The AFM statement said that “[t]he decision for the Italian Navy vessel Foscari to take the rescued migrants to an Italian port in Sicily was the result of Italian insistence that Lampedusa does not represent a place of safety for the disembarkation of migrants, despite it being a mere four hours from the position where the persons were rescued.  Under the relevant legal regime applicable with the Malta SRR, the persons should have been disembarked in Lampedusa which, despite declarations to the contrary, represented the nearest place of safety.”

Click here for article.

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Chatham House Briefing Paper: Responding to Migration from Complex Humanitarian Emergencies: Lessons Learned from Libya

A new Chatham House Briefing Paper by Dr Khalid Koser entitled “Responding to Migration from Complex Humanitarian Emergencies: Lessons Learned from Libya” has been released.

Summary:

  • At its peak during the Libyan conflict, migration to Tunisia and Egypt was massive, even in the context of a region where large-scale migration has become the norm.
  • In the case of Libya, at least five categories of migration can be distinguished: evacuating migrant workers, Libyan nationals moving into Egypt and Tunisia, ‘boat people’ arriving in the EU, internally displaced persons (IDPs), and asylum-seekers and refugees.
  • The international policy response in Libya was hampered by restricted access. IDPs therefore received limited assistance and protection, and migrant workers, especially from sub-Saharan Africa, experienced harassment and abuse.
  • The policy response in neighbouring states, especially Egypt and Tunisia, was far more robust.
  • The political response in the EU to the relatively small proportion of migrants who reached Europe is considered by many commentators to have been disproportionate.
  • The crisis has highlighted a gap in the international regime for protecting IDPs, and in particular migrant workers. It has also called into question the relevance to modern humanitarian crises of a dated refugee definition. More positively, the response has demonstrated how international agencies can cooperate, and there has been unprecedented cooperation between IOM and UNHCR to respond to ‘mixed flows’ from Libya.
  • Responsibility for managing migration now falls to the new government in Libya.

Click here for paper.

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Migrant Boat Rescued by Italian Navy – Migrants to be Transferred to Sicily

The Italian Navy vessel Foscari rescued 44 migrants last night from a disabled boat that is believed to have departed from Libya about 4 days ago.  Maltese media reported that the Italians wanted to disembark the rescued migrants in Malta due to the earlier decision of Italian authorities to close Lampedusa for search and rescue purposes.  However Adnkronos news is reporting that the Foscari is taking the rescued migrants to Augusta, Sicily.

The first satellite phone distress call from the migrant boat was reportedly made when the boat was located within the Libyan SAR.  The migrant boat was finally sighted by an Italian fishing boat last night within the Maltese SAR.  The Italian Navy vessel Foscari rescued the migrants.  A Somali woman and her newborn infant who was born on the migrant boat were flown by helicopter to Lampedusa for medical care.  The remaining 42 rescued persons will now apparently be disembarked in Augusta some time tomorrow.  16 August was the last time a migrant boat reached Italy from Libya.

UNHCR issued a statement saying it was “grateful that the Italian navy took this initiative despite the fact that the boat was in Maltese search and rescue waters.”

Click here (EN), here (EN), here (IT), here (IT), and here (IT) for articles.

Click here for UNHCR statement.

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Expert Meeting on Asylum Seekers and Migrants in Distress at Sea Begins in Djibouti

From an IOM press statement:

“IOM is taking part in a three-day meeting organized by UNHCR and the Government of Djibouti on how best to respond to the needs of migrants, asylum-seekers and refugees who find themselves in situations of distress at sea. The meeting, which opens today [8 November] in Djibouti, brings together government representatives and academics alongside experts from UNHCR, IOM, the International Maritime Organization, the ICRC and IFRC….

‘Despite the tightening of existing Conventions to reinforce the global Search and Rescue regime, gaps remain when it comes to putting these principles into practice,’ says IOM’s Irena Vojackova-Sollorano. ‘Cooperative approaches that bring together governments, the shipping industry, NGOs and international organizations are therefore urgently needed if we are to ensure the safety and protection of all people rescued at sea.’…”

Click here for full press statement.

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Filed under Djibouti, Gulf of Aden, Mediterranean, News, UNHCR

Trapped Migrants Face Increasing Violence at Sidi Bilal Near Tripoli

From Refugees International, 7 October:  “More than 600 migrants from sub-Saharan Africa are effectively stranded at a port just outside the Libyan capital, and have been left to fend for themselves by Libyan authorities. Despite repeated attacks, harassment, and arbitrary arrests by Libyan gangs over the course of four months, they have received no protection from the National Transitional Council (NTC). Refugees International calls on the NTC and all local authorities – including the civilian councils in Janzour and Tripoli, and the Tripoli Military Council – to intervene immediately to protect the population at Sidi Bilal port and ensure their safe relocation to a temporary site.  ‘The men in these camps are routinely harassed and accused of being pro-Gaddafi mercenaries, the women are targets of sexual abuse. All face intimidation by armed Libyan thugs who drive into the port at night firing guns into the air,’ said Matt Pennington, an advocate for Refugees International currently in Libya. ‘Of course, many migrants told us they don’t really want to leave Libya – since they have nothing to return to in their home countries. But even for those who want to stay in Libya, their situation is becoming intolerable.’  …  So far, the UN World Food Programme has delivered one food drop to the imperilled migrants, while the UN Refugee Agency and the International Organization for Migration have been attempting to negotiate safe relocation for those who want to stay and repatriation for those who want to return home. But what the population of Sidi Bilal most urgently needs is protection, and Libyan and UN authorities must act swiftly to provide it.”

Click here for full statement.

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UNHCR, IOM, and Save the Children Warn that Italy’s Decision to Declare Lampedusa a Non-Safe Port Endangers Sea Rescue Operations

UNHCR, IOM, and Save the Children issued a joint statement expressing concern that Italy’s decision to declare Lampedusa an unsafe port which can no longer receive persons rescued at sea risks “undermin[ing] the entire rescue at sea system for migrants and asylum seekers and at the same time could make rescue operations  much more hazardous and complex.”

“Since it is no longer  possible to dock in Lampedusa, the ability of the Coast Guard and the “Guardia di Finanza” to carry out rescue at sea will be compromised by the distance they will have to travel to reach the next safe port, e.g Porto Empedocle, 120 nautical miles away. This would have severe implications on rescue operations when the weather is bad, or when it involves transporting people in need of urgent medical assistance, minors and other vulnerable individuals.

Therefore, the partner organizations of the Praesidium Project hope that  the  Lampedusa centre will be re-established as soon as possible to ensure adequate  reception  and swift transit for migrants who should be hosted in the centre only for a minimum period of time to allow for assistance and identification before being transferred to appropriate facilities elsewhere in Italy.

Whilst the three partner organizations understand the pressure the island has been under in recent times and the limited capacity of the reception and rescue centre, it is important that Lampedusa remains a safe harbour in order to save lives. …”

Click here (EN) or here (IT) for joint statement.

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Filed under Italy, Mediterranean, Statements, UNHCR