Appeal on humanitarian grounds by UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Mr. António Guterres, in respect of Ms. Aminatou Haidar

Briefing Notes, 4 December 2009

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahecic to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 4 December 2009, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

In light of the rapidly deteriorating condition of Ms. Aminatou Haidar, of Laayoune, on hunger strike at the airport in Lanzerote since 16 November, the High Commissioner appeals on the basis of UNHCR's good offices and on strictly humanitarian grounds, to the governments of the two states directly concerned, Spain and Morocco, to consider any measure that could facilitate her movement and end the current impasse.

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Sighted off Spain's Canary Islands

Despite considerable dangers, migrants seeking a better future and refugees fleeing war and persecution continue to board flimsy boats and set off across the high seas. One of the main routes into Europe runs from West Africa to Spain's Canary Islands.

Before 2006, most irregular migrants taking this route used small vessels called pateras, which can carry up to 20 people. They left mostly from Morocco and the Western Sahara on the half-day journey. The pateras have to a large extent been replaced by boats which carry up to 150 people and take three weeks to reach the Canaries from ports in West Africa.

Although only a small proportion of the almost 32,000 people who arrived in the Canary Islands in 2006 applied for asylum, the number has gone up. More than 500 people applied for asylum in 2007, compared with 359 the year before. This came at a time when the overall number of arrivals by sea went down by 75 percent during 2007.

Sighted off Spain's Canary Islands