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At least 150 drown as yet another Lampedusa-bound boat capsizes

News Stories, 3 June 2011

© UNHCR/F.Noy
A floating cemetery of smuggler's boats in Lampedusa. These rickety boats were used to transport people fleeing Libya for Italy. Many do not make it this far.

GENEVA, June 3 (UNHCR) At least 150 people who fled Libya in hope of reaching the Italian island of Lampedusa have drowned in one of the year's deadliest boat incidents in the Mediterranean.

Survivors told UNHCR staff that the overcrowded boat had set sail last Saturday from the Libyan capital of Tripoli, carrying an estimated 850 people mostly from West Africa, Pakistan and Bangladesh. The crew was recruited on an ad hoc basis and had little or no maritime experience. The boat developed technical problems soon after departure and was lost at sea. By day three, the passengers had run out of food and water.

"The boat ultimately ran aground on Wednesday on a sandbank near the Kerkennah islands, some 300 km north-west of Tripoli," UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards told journalists in Geneva on Friday. "It capsized as desperate passengers rushed to one side, seeking rescue by the Tunisian coast guard and fishing boats that had approached the vessel. Many fell into the water."

Women and children are among the missing. The Tunisian navy and coast guard are continuing with the rescue operation.

"Seven people, including two pregnant women, are receiving intensive care in hospitals in Sfax on mainland Tunisia," said Edwards. "Yesterday, 195 survivors were transferred to the IFRC camp near Ras Adjir close to Tunisia's border with Libya. Today, another 383 are scheduled to be transported to this and other nearby camps where they will receive counselling and other help."

In a separate development, UNHCR has cleaned up a large area that was destroyed last week in Choucha camp, also in the Ras Adjir region. The agency has reorganized the site after consulting with representatives of refugee and migrant communities. One hundred and sixty-eight tents have already been set up and more will follow.

Choucha camp hosts some 2,800 people who fled the conflict in Libya. Another 1,000 people are accommodated in other camps around Ras Adjir.

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Refugee Protection and Mixed Migration: A 10-Point Plan of Action

A UNHCR strategy setting out key areas in which action is required to address the phenomenon of mixed and irregular movements of people. See also: Schematic representation of a profiling and referral mechanism in the context of addressing mixed migratory movements.

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Drifting Towards Italy

Every year, Europe's favourite summer playground - the Mediterranean Sea - turns into a graveyard as hundreds of men, women and children drown in a desperate bid to reach European Union (EU) countries.

The Italian island of Lampedusa is just 290 kilometres off the coast of Libya. In 2006, some 18,000 people crossed this perilous stretch of sea - mostly on inflatable dinghies fitted with an outboard engine. Some were seeking employment, others wanted to reunite with family members and still others were fleeing persecution, conflict or indiscriminate violence and had no choice but to leave through irregular routes in their search for safety.

Of those who made it to Lampedusa, some 6,000 claimed asylum. And nearly half of these were recognized as refugees or granted some form of protection by the Italian authorities.

In August 2007, the authorities in Lampedusa opened a new reception centre to ensure that people arriving by boat or rescued at sea are received in a dignified way and are provided with adequate accommodation and medical facilities.

Drifting Towards Italy

Angelina Jolie meets boat people in Malta, Lampedusa

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More than 40,000 people, including refugees and asylum-seekers, have crossed the Mediterranean on overcrowded boats and descended on the small island since the beginning of the year.

The UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador flew to Lampedusa from Malta, which has also been a destination for people fleeing North Africa by boat.

Angelina Jolie meets boat people in Malta, Lampedusa

Displacement Challenges for Libya

Libya endured severe upheaval in 2011 and the next government faces major challenges moving the country forward after four decades of Muammar Gaddafi's rigid rule. One task will be addressing and resolving the issue of tens of thousands of internally displaced people. Some are waiting for their homes to be repaired or rebuilt, but many more have been forced to desert their towns and villages because of their perceived support for Gaddafi and alleged crimes committed during the conflict. Meanwhile, growing numbers of people, including refugees and asylum-seekers, are coming to Libya from sub-Saharan Africa on well travelled mixed migration routes. Some are being detained as illegal immigrants, though many are people of concern. Others have risked the dangerous sea crossing to southern Europe.

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