Category Archives: UNHCR

Maltese JHA Minister: Migrant Boats Have Rights of Passage and Rescue Not Always Needed

Maltese Justice and Home Affairs Minister Carm Mifsud Bonnici is quoted by AP as saying that migrant boats leaving Libya “have the right of passage and nobody can stop them, not even our forces or a NATO ship.  As long as [the boats] are not in distress, then [there] is no issue.”

While Mifsud Bonnici’s observation about the right of passage in international waters is technically correct, given that all or virtually all of the migrant boats that have left Libya in recent weeks have been severely overloaded, all migrant boats leaving North Africa under the current situation should be considered to be in distress and in need of rescue.  Migrant boats departing from Libya with few exceptions must pass through the Maltese Search and Rescue Area and Malta should not avoid its rescue at sea obligations under international law by claiming that it is respecting a vessel’s right of passage.  The UNHCR has called upon “states, commercial shipping companies and others present in the Mediterranean to consider that all boats leaving Libya for Europe are likely to require assistance.”

Click here or here for AP article.

Click here for UNHCR statement.

Leave a comment

Filed under Libya, Malta, Mediterranean, News, UNHCR

Guardian: Libya Official Admits Migrant Ships Being Allowed to Sail as Protest Against Nato

From today’s Guardian:  “The Libyan regime of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi is allowing thousands of sub-Saharan African migrants on to overcrowded, unseaworthy ships in an apparently calculated attempt to use migration as a weapon to pressure Nato and the EU countries backing Libya‘s rebels. [***] Officials said they were doing nothing to encourage the journeys to Italy, but could see no reason to stop them, because doing so would serve the interests of Nato member states bombing Libya.

‘We say to Europe that we can no longer do what we used to do,’ said the prime minister, al-Baghdadi Ali al-Mahmoudi. ‘And that’s because Nato has ruined our coastal defences.’ [***] [S]urvivors told the [UNHCR] that some ships were leaving Tripoli only for their captain to disembark once they were at sea and take a pilot boat back to shore.  ‘They [the migrants] are told, “here’s the compass, you go that way”,’ [UNHCR spokesperson Melissa] Fleming said. [***]”

Click here for Guardian article.

1 Comment

Filed under Libya, Mediterranean, News, UNHCR

Libya: Because of NATO Aggression, We Cannot Be Guards of Europe

From an AP story about the sinking of the migrant boat that left Tripoli last week, killing hundreds of persons:

“… International agencies say some recent migrants report being forced onto dangerously packed ships at gunpoint by Libyan soldiers. A spokesman for Moammar Gadhafi suggested that increased illegal immigration was the price European nations would pay for their military and political support of the rebels trying to topple Libya’s strongman. ‘Because of the NATO aggression against our country and because our coastal border guard is being hit daily … we are unable to deal with this situation and that is why Europe is being flooded with illegal immigration,’ government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim said. ‘We cannot be the guards of Europe at this moment.’…

The U.N. said migrants’ boats started leaving Libya for Europe again on March 25, the day NATO took over military operations. About 14,800 since have made the gruelling journey across the Mediterranean in rickety ships run by smugglers who rarely provide enough food and water. At least 800 people had been lost at sea in three boat sinkings before the latest ship went down with 600 aboard off Tripoli on Friday, the U.N. said.  Five boats carrying 2,400 people have arrived in recent days on the Italian island of Lampedusa, the closest European point to Libya. Every one of those boats needed to be rescued by the Italian coast guard and police, the U.N. said.

‘We know that the people running the boats are smugglers. But obviously you cannot have over 2,000 people leaving in a few short days without the government knowing and allowing it,’ U.N. refugee agency spokeswoman Sybella Wilkes said. ‘That port of Tripoli is under government control.’…”

Click here for full text of article.

1 Comment

Filed under European Union, Italy, Libya, Mediterranean, News, UNHCR

500 Migrants Rescued Off Lampedusa; Hundreds Likely Dead Off Libya

A boat from Libya carrying over 500 people from sub-Sahara Africa and Asia ran around off Lampedusa on Sunday. Italian rescuers saved everyone on board.  The survivors had to be brought ashore by rescuers in the water because rescue boats were unable to approach due to the shoals on which the migrant boat ran around.

In a separate incident, early Friday morning, 6 May, a migrant boat believed to be carrying over 600 people capsized or broke apart off the Libyan coast.  It is feared that most of the passengers have died.

Click here, here, and here for articles about the Lampedusa rescue. (EN)

Click here (EN) and here (IT) for article about the sinking off Libya.

Leave a comment

Filed under Italy, Libya, Mediterranean, News, UNHCR

Report: Military Ships Failed to Rescue or Render Aid and 61 Died at Sea

The Guardian on Sunday reported many more details about an incident that began on 25 March when a migrant boat left Libya carrying 72 asylum seekers and which ended 16 days later on 10 April when the disabled vessel washed ashore in Libya with only 11 survivors.  The survivors have described several incidents where military ships and planes ignored their pleas for rescue.  It is clear from the survivors’ descriptions that their disabled vessel was sighted because at one point a military helicopter dropped bottles of water and emergency food rations on the migrant boat.

The UNHCR and Father Mussie Zerai, an Eritrean priest in Rome who runs the refugee rights organisation Habeshia, have called for further investigations into why the boat’s passengers were not rescued.

From the Guardian article: “The Guardian’s investigation into the case of the boat of 72 migrants which set sail from Tripoli on 25 March established that it carried 47 Ethiopians, seven Nigerians, seven Eritreans, six Ghanaians and five Sudanese migrants. Twenty were women and two were small children, one of whom was just one year old. The boat’s Ghanaian captain was aiming for the Italian island of Lampedusa, 180 miles north-west of the Libyan capital, but after 18 hours at sea the small vessel began running into trouble and losing fuel.  Using witness testimony from survivors and other individuals who were in contact with the passengers during its doomed voyage, the Guardian has pieced together what happened next. The account paints a harrowing picture of a group of desperate migrants condemned to death by a combination of bad luck, bureaucracy and the apparent indifference of European military forces who had the opportunity to attempt a rescue….

The Guardian has made extensive inquiries to ascertain the identity of the Nato aircraft carrier, and has concluded that it is likely to have been the French ship Charles de Gaulle, which was operating in the Mediterranean on those dates.  French naval authorities initially denied the carrier was in the region at that time. After being shown news reports which indicated this was untrue, a spokesperson declined to comment.

A spokesman for Nato, which is co-ordinating military action in Libya, said it had not logged any distress signals from the boat and had no records of the incident. ‘Nato units are fully aware of their responsibilities with regard to the international maritime law regarding safety of life at sea,’ said an official. ‘Nato ships will answer all distress calls at sea and always provide help when necessary. Saving lives is a priority for any Nato ships.’”

Click here for full Guardian article.

Click here (IT) for earlier article.

The route of the boat - from


Filed under France, Italy, Libya, Malta, Mediterranean, News, UNHCR

ECJ Rules Italy May Not Criminally Punish Illegally Staying Migrants Who Fail to Depart

The First Chamber of the European Court of Justice issued a decision on 28 April ruling that the Italian law which punishes migrants who remain in Italy after being ordered to depart is precluded by EU Directive 2008/115 which established the procedure by which Member States may return illegally staying third country nationals.  The ruling was made in the case of Hassen El Dridi alias Soufi Karim, Case C‑61/11 PPU, 28 April 2011.

The Italian law in question was enacted in 2009 as part of a “security package” (“pacchetto sicurezza”) of immigration laws and punishes the act of illegally staying in Italy after being ordered to depart with 1 to 4 years imprisonment.  Italy has never transposed Directive 2008/115.  The deadline for doing so was 24 December 2010.

The Court’s ruling was as follows:

“Directive 2008/115/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 16 December 2008 on common standards and procedures in Member States for returning illegally staying third-country nationals, in particular Articles 15 and 16 thereof, must be interpreted as precluding a Member State’s legislation, such as that at issue in the main proceedings, which provides for a sentence of imprisonment to be imposed on an illegally staying third-country national on the sole ground that he remains, without valid grounds, on the territory of that State, contrary to an order to leave that territory within a given period.”

The Court suggested that penalties might be imposed by a Member State after the procedures required by the Directive had been exhausted: “[This] does not preclude the possibility for the Member States to adopt, with respect for the principles and objective of Directive 2008/115, provisions regulating the situation in which coercive measures have not resulted in the removal of a third-country national staying illegally on their territory.” Para. 60.

Interior Minister Roberto Maroni criticised the decision saying that it risks making expulsions difficult or impossible.  UNHCR spokeswoman Laura Boldrini said that the ECJ decision was consistent and in harmony with what has already been expressed by the Italian courts, specifically the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Court, and expressed the hope that the EU Directive would soon be implemented.

Click here for ECJ Decision.

Click here for ECJ Press Release.

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

The ECJ Press Release provides a summary of the ruling; here are some excerpts from the ruling:

[Facts and Procedural Background]


18      Mr El Dridi is a third-country national who entered Italy illegally and does not hold a residence permit. A deportation decree was issued against him by the Prefect of Turin on 8 May 2004.

19      An order requiring his removal from the national territory, issued on 21 May 2010 by the Questore di Udine pursuant to that deportation decree, was notified to him on the same day….

20      A check carried out on 29 September 2010 revealed that Mr El Dridi had not complied with that removal order.

21      Mr El Dridi was sentenced at the conclusion of an expedited procedure by a single judge of the Tribunale di Trento (District Court, Trento) to one year’s imprisonment for the offence set out in Article 14(5b) of Legislative Decree No 286/1998.

22      He appealed against that decision before the Corte d’appello di Trento (Appeal Court, Trento).

[Referral of Questions to Court of Justice]

23      That [appeal] court is in doubt as to whether a criminal penalty may be imposed during administrative procedures concerning the return of a foreign national to his country of origin due to non-compliance with the stages of those procedures, since such a penalty seems contrary to the principle of sincere cooperation, to the need for attainment of the objectives of Directive 2008/115 and for ensuring the effectiveness thereof, and also to the principle that the penalty must be proportionate, appropriate and reasonable.


25      In those circumstances, the Corte d’appello di Trento … refer[ed] the following question to the Court of Justice for a preliminary ruling:

‘In the light of the principle of sincere cooperation, the purpose of which is to ensure the attainment of the objectives of the directive, and the principle that the penalty must be proportionate, appropriate and reasonable, do Articles 15 and 16 of Directive 2008/115… preclude:

—      the possibility that criminal penalties may be imposed in respect of a breach of an intermediate stage in the administrative return procedure, before that procedure is completed, by having recourse to the most severe administrative measure of constraint which remains available?

—      the possibility of a sentence of up to four years’ imprisonment being imposed in respect of a simple failure to cooperate in the deportation procedure on the part of the person concerned, in particular where the first removal order issued by the administrative authorities has not been complied with?’


[ECJ’s Rationale]

58      … the Member States may not, in order to remedy the failure of coercive measures adopted in order to carry out forced removal pursuant to Article 8(4) of [Directive 2008/115], provide for a custodial sentence, such as that provided for by Article 14(5b) of Legislative Decree No 286/1998, on the sole ground that a third-country national continues to stay illegally on the territory of a Member State after an order to leave the national territory was notified to him and the period granted in that order has expired; rather, they must pursue their efforts to enforce the return decision, which continues to produce its effects.

59      Such a penalty, due inter alia to its conditions and methods of application, risks jeopardising the attainment of the objective pursued by that directive, namely, the establishment of an effective policy of removal and repatriation of illegally staying third-country nationals. In particular, as observed by the Advocate General in point 42 of his View, national legislation such as that at issue in the main proceedings is liable to frustrate the application of the measures referred to in Article 8(1) of Directive 2008/115 and delay the enforcement of the return decision.

60      That does not preclude the possibility for the Member States to adopt, with respect for the principles and objective of Directive 2008/115, provisions regulating the situation in which coercive measures have not resulted in the removal of a third-country national staying illegally on their territory.

61      In the light of the foregoing, it will be for the national court, which is called upon, within the exercise of its jurisdiction, to apply and give full effect to provisions of European Union law, to refuse to apply any provision of Legislative Decree No 286/1998 which is contrary to the result of Directive 2008/115, including Article 14(5b) of that legislative decree (see, to that effect, Case 106/77 Simmenthal [1978] ECR 629, paragraph 24; Case C-462/99 Connect Austria [2003] ECR I-5197, paragraphs 38 and 40; and Joined Cases C‑188/10 and C‑189/10 Melki and Abdeli [2010] ECR I-0000, paragraph 43). In so doing, the referring court will have to take due account of the principle of the retroactive application of the more lenient penalty, which forms part of the constitutional traditions common to the Member States (Joined Cases C‑387/02, C‑391/02 and C‑403/02 Berlusconi and Others [2005] ECR I‑3565, paragraphs 67 to 69, and Case C‑420/06 Jager [2008] ECR I‑1315, paragraph 59).

62      Consequently, the answer to the question referred is that Directive 2008/115, in particular Articles 15 and 16 thereof, must be interpreted as precluding a Member State’s legislation, such as that at issue in the main proceedings, which provides for a sentence of imprisonment to be imposed on an illegally staying third-country national on the sole ground that he remains, without valid grounds, on the territory of that State, contrary to an order to leave that territory within a given period.


On those grounds, the Court (First Chamber) hereby rules:

Directive 2008/115/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 16 December 2008 on common standards and procedures in Member States for returning illegally staying third-country nationals, in particular Articles 15 and 16 thereof, must be interpreted as precluding a Member State’s legislation, such as that at issue in the main proceedings, which provides for a sentence of imprisonment to be imposed on an illegally staying third-country national on the sole ground that he remains, without valid grounds, on the territory of that State, contrary to an order to leave that territory within a given period.


Filed under Algeria, European Union, Italy, Judicial, News, UNHCR

UNHCR: 16 Drowning Deaths in Gulf of Aden

UNHCR reports on the most recent known deaths in the Gulf of Aden over the past week.  The victims were mostly Somalis attempting to reach Yemen.  In one incident involving a sinking of a boat at least 15 are known to have died.  “The survivors say that during the voyage they saw a cargo vessel and foreign naval ship. They say that the naval ship approached their boat but ignored their cries for help. This is disturbing. UNHCR appeals to all shipmasters in the Gulf of Aden to uphold the longstanding tradition of rescue at sea and helping vessels in distress.”

“UNHCR is alarmed by a growing number of deaths in the Gulf of Aden this year. Eighty-nine people are known to have drowned in January and February alone – compared to 15 only during the whole of 2010. We also note with the great concern the resurgence of violence and inhumane treatment by smugglers of the refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants that they are transporting. The deadly record for the first three months is a stark manifestation of this trend.  More than 6,500 Somalis and 18,800 Ethiopians have arrived in Yemen by boat so far this year.”

Click here for UNHCR statement.

Leave a comment

Filed under Gulf of Aden, News, Somalia, UNHCR, Yemen

COE Parliamentary Assembly Adopts Resolution Regarding North African Migrants & Asylum Seekers

Earlier today PACE approved a resolution based on a report by Tineke Strik (Netherlands, SOC) addressing the large influx of migrants and asylum seekers on Europe’s southern borders.  From the PACE press statement: the Assembly “welcomed the efforts so far of the ‘frontline states’ to provide humanitarian assistance in line with their international obligations, and urged other European countries to ‘show solidarity’ with them, including by agreeing to resettle refugees and other persons with international protection needs. Malta was in a ‘particularly difficult situation’ given its small size, high population and limited resources… If the current wave of arrivals in Europe increases because of an even greater exodus of persons from Libya, in particular Libyans fleeing terror from Colonel Gaddafi’s regime or an entrenched civil war, the EU should consider applying its temporary protection directive….”

Excerpts from PACE Resolution 1805 (2011):

The large-scale arrival of irregular migrants, asylum seekers and refugees on Europe’s southern shores


6.       The Parliamentary Assembly recognises that one of the first priorities is to deal with the humanitarian and international protection needs of those who have arrived on Europe’s shores, primarily in Italy and Malta. Member states, the European Union, international organisations, civil society and others all have a contribution to make and need to show solidarity with the front-line states. This solidarity and willingness to share responsibility needs to extend to the coast of North Africa and the many thousands of refugees and displaced persons still seeking ways to return home after fleeing from Libya. It should also extend to those migrants and refugees who are trapped in Libya awaiting the chance to flee.

7.       The Assembly notes that while there has been a wave of arrivals, there has not yet been the feared total deluge. This distinction is important because it has not always been clearly made by politicians, the media and others, leading to heightened fear and misunderstanding among the general public and calls for exaggerated responses.

8.       The Assembly recognises the pressure that the front-line countries of the Council of Europe are under, and welcomes their efforts to provide humanitarian assistance in line with international obligations and encourages them to continue with these efforts. The Assembly reminds states of their international obligations not to push back boats which are carrying persons with international protection needs.


12.       The Assembly, recognising that events in North Africa are of concern to all member states of the Council of Europe, therefore calls on member states to:

12.1.        acknowledge that the arrival of a large number of irregular immigrants on the southern shores of Europe is the responsibility of all European states and requires a solution which envisages the need to share this responsibility collectively. The Assembly reminds member states of the repeated appeals of the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights for the need for effective responsibility sharing;

12.2.       provide urgent humanitarian aid and assistance to all those persons arriving on Europe’s southern shores and other borders, including through the provision of adequate accommodation, shelter and health care, as highlighted previously in Assembly Resolution 1637 (2008) on Europe’s boat people: mixed migration flows by sea into southern Europe;

12.3.       refrain from automatic detention and have recourse to detention only where there is no other reasonable alternative, ensuring that conditions comply with minimum human rights standards as outlined in Assembly Resolution 1707 (2010) on detention of asylum seekers and irregular migrants in Europe;

12.4.       ensure that vulnerable persons, including women and children, victims of torture, victims of trafficking, and the elderly, are not detained and receive appropriate care and assistance;

12.5.       guarantee the right of asylum and non-refoulement through, inter alia:

12.5.1.       ensuring that states give access to their territory to persons in need of international protection;

12.5.2.       assuring the quality and consistency of asylum decisions in line with Assembly Resolution 1695 (2009) on improving the quality and consistency of asylum decisions in the Council of Europe member states;

12.6.       ensure that, in screening arrivals and carrying out asylum determinations, these are carried out without delay, but that speed is not given preference over fairness;

12.7.       provide full support to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), International Organisation for Migration (IOM), International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and other international and national organisations providing humanitarian and other assistance, both in North Africa and in the European countries of arrival, and generously take part in resettlement programmes for refugees stranded in North African countries;

12.8.       show solidarity in the challenges faced, which includes sharing responsibility with front-line states, including by:

12.8.1.       giving further support to the European Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at the External Borders of the Member States of the European Union (Frontex) and the newly established European Asylum Agency (EASO), and encouraging further use of European Union funding available through the External Borders Fund, the Return Fund, the European Refugee Fund and the Integration Fund;

12.8.2.       looking into the possibility of taking on commitments for resettlement of those with international protection needs from the European countries of arrival and on suspending the application of the Dublin Regulations or on considering other forms of responsibility sharing, through the use of existing mechanisms provided for in the Dublin Regulation, including the solidarity clause in Article 3(2) and the humanitarian clause in Article 15;

12.8.3.       working together, including with the European Union, on the issue of voluntary and forced returns, taking into account necessary human rights safeguards when relying on readmission agreements in line with Assembly Resolution 1741 (2010) on readmission agreements: a mechanism for returning irregular migrants;

12.8.4.        acknowledging the particularly difficult situation in which Malta finds itself, in view of the size of its territory, its high population density and limited human and material resources, and committing to the resettlement of those with international protection needs.


14.       If a mass exodus of Libyan refugees occurs because of increasing terror by Colonel Gaddafi or the emergence of a civil war, the Assembly encourages the European Union member states to consider applying the temporary protection directive (Council Directive 2001/55/EC of 20 July 2001 on minimum standards for giving temporary protection in the event of a mass influx of displaced persons and on measures promoting a balance of efforts between Member States in receiving such persons and bearing the consequences thereof). It is important, however, to ensure that no states are considering returning Libyans at this stage and that at least a form of temporary protection is provided in practice.


Click here for Resolution. (Resolution 1805 (2011))

Click here for Recommendation. (REC 1967 (2011))

Click here for PACE press statement.

Click here for Report, Committee on Migration, Refugees and Population, Rapporteur: Ms Tineke STRIK, (Doc. 12581, 13 April 2011).


Leave a comment

Filed under Commissioner for Human Rights, Council of Europe, European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, European Union, Italy, Libya, Malta, Mediterranean, News, Tunisia, UNHCR

JHA Council Conclusions on the management of migration from the Southern Neighbourhood – 11 April 2011

Excerpts from today’s JHA Council Conclusions:


5. The Council calls on FRONTEX to continue to monitor the situation and prepare detailed risk analyses on possible scenarios with a view to identifying the most effective responses to them, and also invites FRONTEX to speed up negotiations with the countries of the region – and in particular with Tunisia – with a view to concluding operational working arrangements, and organising joint patrolling operations in cooperation with Tunisian authorities and in application of all relevant international Conventions, in particular the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (“the Montego Bay Convention”).

6. The Council urges Member States to provide further human and technical resources to support the Agency’s operations, and in particular the existing Joint Operations Hermes, Poseidon Land and Sea and the possible deployment of a RABIT operation in Malta, in accordance with needs identified by the Agency in the light of the developing situation.

7. In order to rapidly strengthen the competences of FRONTEX and put more effective tools at its disposal, the Council agrees to accelerate negotiations on amending the FRONTEX Regulation, in cooperation with the European Parliament, with a view to reaching agreement by June 2011.

8. The Council underlines the need to promote all relevant forms of cooperation on a performance-based approach in the field of migration, mobility and security with the countries of the region that are sufficiently advanced in their reform progresses, and that effectively cooperate with the EU and its Member States in preventing illegal migration flows, managing their borders and cooperating in the return and readmission of irregular migrants. The Council stresses the need for early progress in the area of return and readmission in the case of relevant third countries, and recalls in particular that all States have an obligation to readmit their own nationals.


10. The Council welcomes the outcome of the visits of the Presidency and the Commission to Egypt and Tunisia and the intention of the Commission to follow-up these visits by setting up dialogues with the authorities of these countries at senior officials’ level, in which Member States will also participate, and which will be aimed at promoting the swift development of cooperation on the management of migration flows. This dialogue should in first instance, focus on the identification and promotion of measures which can contribute in a concrete and effective way to the prevention of illegal migration, to the effective management and control of their external borders, to the facilitation of the return and readmission of irregular migrants, and to the development of protection in the region for those in need, including through regional protection programmes. Subsequently, this dialogue could explore the possibilities for facilitating people-to-people contacts using instruments such as mobility partnerships.

11. The Council stresses the importance of offering durable protection solutions to those in need of international protection present in the countries of the Southern Neighbourhood, and, in this respect, calls on the Commission and the Council’s preparatory bodies to examine the possibility of assisting those countries in capacity building in the area of international protection, including by activating existing regional protection programmes, and assessing the need for additional programmes in the region.

12. The Council recalls that resettlement of refugees on a voluntary basis, in particular those living for some years in a situation of protracted displacement and vulnerability, and having no other perspective, can represent a durable solution for them. The Council takes note of the willingness of certain Member States to consider offering resettlement opportunities for the refugees present in the region. The Council invites Member States to continue supporting UNHCR in the development of resettlement programmes and calls on the Commission to identify solutions for supporting financially such resettlement actions.

13. The Council underlines that the measures mentioned in the paragraphs above represent the immediate answer to the crisis situation in the Mediterranean, but that it is also crucial to put in place a more long-term sustainable strategy to address international protection, migration, mobility and security in general, and taking also the secondary movements to other Member States into account.

14. The Council welcomes the Commission’s intention to come forward for that purpose with proposals in response to the Declaration of the Extraordinary European Council of 11 March and the Conclusions of the European Council of 24-25 March, and notes that the Presidency stands ready to convene an extraordinary meeting of the Council on 12 May if necessary in the light of developments and to further consider these matters.”

Click here for full document.

Leave a comment

Filed under European Union, Frontex, Italy, Libya, Malta, Mediterranean, News, Statements, Tunisia, UNHCR

UNHCR Calls on EU to Improve Rescue at Sea Measures; NATO Should Also Actively Participate in Rescue at Sea in Regard to All Overcrowded Boats

UNHCR issued a statement on Friday, 8 April, calling “on the European Union to urgently put into place more reliable and effective mechanisms for rescue-at-sea” in the aftermath of last week’s disaster that saw “[m]ore than 220 Somali, Eritrean and Ivorian refugees drowned early on Wednesday morning when their boat capsized some 39 nautical miles south of the Italian island of Lampedusa. This is the worst such incident in the Mediterranean in recent years.  ‘It is hard to comprehend that at a time when tens of thousands are fleeing the Libyan conflict and pouring across the land borders into Tunisia and Egypt where they enjoy safety and receive shelter and aid, the protection of people fleeing via Libya’s maritime border does not appear to have the same priority’ said Assistant High Commissioner for Protection Erika Feller.” “‘We also appeal to shipmasters to continue to render assistance to those in distress at sea. Any overcrowded boat leaving Libya these days should be considered to be in distress’ [, said Feller.]”

While NATO was not mentioned in the UNHCR statement, the call for improved measures to save the lives of migrants who flee North Africa by boat should also be heard and considered by the NATO Maritime Command Naples which is conducting the maritime embargo of Libya known as Operation Unified Protector.   NATO has a significant naval force patrolling the area through which migrant boats leaving Libya are passing and this force should be actively engaged in protecting fleeing civilians.  (Click here for earlier post regarding NATO’s maritime embargo.)

While UN Security Council Resolution 1973 does not speak directly to this issue, it does call for the protection of civilians.  Relevant portions from Security Council Resolution 1973:

  • “Expressing [the Security Council’s] determination to ensure the protection of civilians and civilian populated areas and the rapid and unimpeded passage of humanitarian assistance and the safety of humanitarian personnel, [***];
  • Reiterating [the Security Council’s] concern at the plight of refugees and foreign workers forced to flee the violence in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, welcoming the response of neighbouring States, in particular Tunisia and Egypt, to address the needs of those refugees and foreign workers, and calling on the international community to support those efforts, [***];
  • Protection of civilians – 4. Authorizes Member States that have notified the Secretary-General, acting nationally or through regional organizations or arrangements, and acting in cooperation with the Secretary-General, to take all necessary measures, notwithstanding paragraph 9 of resolution 1970 (2011), to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya,… [***].”

As with UNHCR’s call to EU states, NATO ships should also render assistance to any migrant boat detected by NATO forces – any overcrowded boat leaving Libya should be considered to be in distress.

Click here for UNHCR statement.

Click here for article.

Leave a comment

Filed under European Union, Italy, Libya, Malta, Mediterranean, News, UNHCR

Libyan Migrant Boats Carrying Over 400 People Missing; Reports of Deaths

There have been reports in recent days from the UNHCR and others about at least two boats that are believed to have left Libya over the past 10-14 days carrying persons from Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, and possible other countries.  Family members and friends of people who are believed to be on the boats have been calling for assistance in searching for the boats.  Reuters reported that “[o]ne of the boats was reported to have left Libya on March 22 with 335 people on board.  Italian media said 68 people on the other boat had almost certainly died during the journey, although there was no official confirmation. The top Vatican official in Tripoli, Bishop Giovanni Innocenzo Martinelli, said 10 bodies of African migrants were at the capital’s morgue on [4 April]. … He said there were reports of ‘many more bodies’ of migrants washed up on the shores of Garaboulli, some 40 km from Tripoli.”  Father Mussie Zerai, who is based in Rome, “said he had last spoken to migrants on board the smaller boat, an inflatable, by satellite phone on 26 March before the line went dead.  ‘I have meanwhile had no contact with the larger boat, but family members of those on board have called us from Canada, Sweden and Switzerland to tell us they left.’”

Click here and here for articles. (EN)

There have been confirmed deaths among migrants who have left Tunisia in recent weeks.  At least 27 bodies had been recovered as of last week in Kerkennah.  The dead were probably on board boats that sank on the 13th and 27th of March off the Tunisian coast.

Click here for article.

UPDATE:  If you have information about a family member or friend who may be on a boat or if you are seeking information, please consider contacting the Agenzia Habeshia per la Cooperazione allo Sviluppo in Italy at this email address: .



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

UNHCR Report: “2010 Asylum Levels and Trends in Industrialized Countries”; Levels Fall to Half of 2001 Levels

From UNHCR’s statement summarizing the report which was released this morning:

“Asylum figures fall in 2010 to almost half their 2001 levels-

GENEVA – The number of asylum-seekers in the industrialized world continued to fall in 2010, bringing the figure down to nearly half the level at the start of the millennium.

This was among the main findings as the UN refugee agency today released its 2010 statistical overview of asylum applications in 44 industrialized countries. The report deals with new asylum claims and does not show how many individuals were granted refugee status.

According to the report, 358,800 asylum applications were lodged in industrialized countries last year – down 5 per cent from 2009, and some 42 per cent lower than the decade’s peak in 2001, when almost 620,000 asylum applications were made…

Numbers fall in most regions

Last year’s total number of new asylum claims was the fourth lowest in the last decade. Year-on-year decreases were reported in most regions, including in Europe, North America and North Asia. Within Europe, the largest decline was seen in southern Europe, where claims fell by 33 per cent compared to 2009. This was mainly because fewer people requested protection in Malta, Italy and Greece. However, this decline was offset by increases elsewhere, especially in Germany (49%), Sweden (32%), Denmark (30%), Turkey (18%), Belgium (16%) and France (13%). In the Nordic countries, the increases in Denmark and Sweden were offset by substantial declines in Norway (-42 per cent) and Finland (-32 per cent)….

US tops recipient list

Among individual countries, the United States remained the largest asylum recipient for the fifth consecutive year, accounting for one out of every six asylum applications in the industrialized countries covered in the report. The US saw an increase of 6,500 applications, partly due to a rise in the number of Chinese and Mexican asylum-seekers.

France maintained its position as host to the second-largest number of new applications, with 47,800 in 2010, largely from Serbian, Russian and Congolese asylum-seekers. Germany became the third-largest recipient country with a 49-percent rise. The increases can partly be attributed to a rise in asylum seekers from Serbia and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. That development is widely attributed to the introduction of visa-free entry to the European Union for nationals of these two countries since December 2009.

Sweden and Canada ranked fourth and fifth respectively. Together, the top five countries of asylum accounted for more than half (56 per cent) of all asylum applications covered in this report.

Most claims from Serbia

In terms of places of origin, the largest group of asylum-seekers in 2010 were from Serbia (28,900, including Kosovo). The country saw a 54 per cent increase compared to 2009, when it ranked sixth. Interestingly, the number of asylum applications in 2010 was comparable to 2001, soon after the Kosovo crisis.

Afghanistan slid to second place with a decrease of 9 per cent compared to the previous year. Unlike in 2009, when Afghan claims were mainly lodged in Norway and the United Kingdom, in 2010 more claims were filed in Germany and Sweden. Chinese asylum-seekers made up the third-largest asylum group in 2010, partly due to a substantial drop in the number of new applications from Iraq and Somalia. For the first time since 2005, Iraq was not one of the top two countries of origin of asylum-seekers. It dropped to fourth place, followed by the Russian Federation. Somalia, which occupied the third spot in 2009, fell to sixth in 2010….”

Click here for full report.

Click here for key graphs from report.

Leave a comment

Filed under Data / Stats, European Union, News, Reports, UNHCR

Boat With 350 African Migrants from Libya Receives Assistance from Canadian Navy Ship

A boat carrying approximately 350 African migrants or asylum seekers from Libya has been intercepted and is being diverted to the Italian island of Linosa between Malta and Lampedusa.  There have been reports over the past several days that the migrant boat was at sea.  A Canadian navy ship, probably the frigate HMCS Charlottetown, first intercepted and boarded the migrant boat to determine whether the passengers required immediate rescue or not and to provide a pump.  The migrant boat was allowed to proceed.  An Italian navy helicopter later rescued a woman who gave birth on the boat.  The woman, the newborn baby, the father, and a second pregnant woman were removed from the migrant boat and taken to hospitals on Lampedusa and Sicily.  The Italian navy said that the migrant boat will be taken to Linosa rather than Lampedusa.  UNHCR spokeswoman Laura Boldrini is quoted by AFP as saying that “[t]his is the first boat coming from Libya with people fleeing the military escalation, the vendettas and the retaliation attacks and that “the people on board the boat required ‘international protection’”.  AFP also reported that “Mussie Zerai, an Eritrean Catholic priest in Italy who has been in direct contact with the vessel via a satellite phone, said conditions on the boat were extremely difficult with around 10 children and 20 women on board.  He said the people were mostly Eritreans, Ethiopians and Somalians.”  Zerai also “said four or five other boats carrying African migrants had … left Libyan shores carrying around 1,000 people.”

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


Filed under Eritrea, Ethiopia, Italy, Libya, Malta, Mediterranean, News, Somalia, UNHCR

Italian Navy Transports 600 Migrants from Lampedusa to Sicily

In an effort to relieve the severe overcrowding on Lampedusa, the San Marco, an Italian naval ship yesterday transported about 600 Tunisians from Lampedusa to Sicily.  The ship’s departure was delayed by several hours because the ship’s captain had apparently not been given instructions where to take the migrants.  The ship was eventually directed to sail to the port of Augusta on Sicily.  It is unclear whether the ship will return to Lampedusa to pick up more migrants.

There has been confusion over the identity of the 600 migrants who were selected to be moved to Sicily.  Initial statements by Italian officials said that the migrants who were to be moved had been identified as asylum seekers or were women and children.  But later reports indicted that there were fewer than 20 women and children among the 600 and that none of the 600 have been identified as asylum seekers.   UNHCR said that no formal refugee processing is being conducted on Lampedusa in part due to the chaos and severe overcrowding on the island and also due to the fact that only a few migrants have reportedly expressed a desire to seek asylum.

Approximately 650 other migrants were transported off the island yesterday by planes and yesterday marked the first day in many days where there was a net decrease in the migrant population on Lampedusa.  1200 migrants left the island and about 300 new migrants in seven boats arrived on the island yesterday.

Foreign Minister Frattini and Interior Minister Maroni are now scheduled to travel to Tunis on Friday, 25 March, to discuss a new migration agreement with Tunisia.

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

Leave a comment

Filed under European Union, Frontex, Italy, Mediterranean, News, Tunisia, UNHCR

Save the Children: Conditions for 250 Unaccompanied Migrant Children on Lampedusa Unacceptable

Save the Children released a press statement yesterday describing the conditions for more than 250 unaccompanied migrant children on Lampedusa and calling for their immediate transfer from the island.  Excerpts:

“’The structure that has been allocated [to the children on Lampedusa] is totally inadequate and the conditions on an hourly basis are becoming more critical from the point of view of hygiene and [other conditions]’ said Raffaella Milano, Italy-Programs Manager, Save the Children Europe.  Since the beginning of the increased arrivals of migrants from Tunisia – since February 10 – more than 530 children, the vast majority of them unaccompanied, have arrived in Lampedusa.  Of these, 283 have been placed in communities to accommodate the children in Sicily.  ‘More than 250 unaccompanied minors are still remaining in Lampedusa and many have been living many days in conditions that do not guarantee minimum standards of reception.’ …  Save the Children calls for the transfer of the children and setting up temporary structures … if necessary, where the children may stay until being placed within the community. … This delay is not justifiable.”

For more information:
Press Office Save the Children Italy,
Tel. 06.48070023-71-001;

Click here for link to statement.

Also click here for 22 March UNHCR urgent call for action by the Italian authorities to alleviate overcrowding on Lampedusa.

Leave a comment

Filed under European Union, General, Italy, Mediterranean, News, Statements, Tunisia, UNHCR