Some 8,400 migrants, asylum-seekers reach Italy and Malta by sea in first half of 2013

News Stories, 5 July 2013

© UNHCR/F.Noy
These people have just arrived by boat on Italy's Lampedusa Island after crossing the Mediterranean on a dilapidated boat.

ROME, Italy, July 5 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency said on Friday that an estimated 8,400 migrants and asylum-seekers landed on the coasts of Italy and Malta in the first six months of this year. The majority arrived in Italy (7,800), while Malta received around 600 migrants and asylum-seekers.

"Those making this journey mostly departed from North Africa, principally Libya around 6,700 people. The remaining 1,700 crossed from Greece and Turkey, landing in southern Italy's Apulia and Calabria regions," a UNHCR spokesman said.

The high seas crossing is very dangerous and every year people die in the attempt. Pope Francis will visit the Italian island of Lampedusa on Monday to pay tribute to these people and will throw a wreath into the sea.

Countries in sub-Saharan Africa are the main places of origin of these migrants and asylum-seekers, particularly Somalia and Eritrea. Other countries of origin include Egypt, Pakistan and Syria. Nationals of Gambia, Mali and Afghanistan also make these crossings, but in smaller numbers.

The Mediterranean has some of the busiest sea crossings in the world and is also a dangerous frontier for migrants and asylum-seekers en route to southern Europe.

"In view of the perils, UNHCR again calls on all vessels at sea to be on alert for migrants and refugees in need of rescue," spokesman Adrian Edwards said. "We also renew our call to all shipmasters in the Mediterranean to remain vigilant and to carry out their duty of rescuing vessels in distress," he added.

International and European law also requires states to ensure that people intercepted or rescued at sea who seek asylum, can gain access to territory and to an asylum procedure where their international protection needs or claims can be examined.

The peak crossing period for migrants and asylum-seekers runs from May to September. At this time of year, when there is an increase in the number of people trying to make the perilous high seas journey, it is essential to ensure that the long-established tradition of rescue at sea is upheld by all and that international maritime law is adhered to.

For 2012 as a whole, some 15,000 migrants and asylum-seekers reached Italy and Malta (13,200 and 1,800 respectively) by sea. The number arriving in the first six months of 2012 was 4,500 (3,500 in Italy and 1,000 in Malta).

Some 40 people have died trying to make the crossing from Tunisia to Italy during the first six months of 2013, by UNHCR count. In 2012, almost 500 people were reported dead or missing at sea. The decrease in deaths so far in 2013 is thanks in part to the efforts of the Italian and Maltese authorities in effectively coordinating rescue at sea.

UNHCR also welcomes the efforts by the authorities in Italy, Malta and Libya to rescue boats in distress in the Mediterranean, and calls on all states to continue to fulfill their obligations under international refugee law and maritime law.

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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.

International Migration

The link between movements of refugees and broader migration attracts growing attention.

Mixed Migration

Migrants are different from refugees but the two sometimes travel alongside each other.

Asylum and Migration

Asylum and Migration

All in the same boat: The challenges of mixed migration around the world.

2007 Nansen Refugee Award

The UN refugee agency's Nansen Awards Committee has named Dr. Katrine Camilleri, a 37-year-old lawyer with the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) in Malta, as the winner of the 2007 Nansen Refugee Award. The Committee was impressed by the political and civic courage she has shown in dealing with the refugee situation in Malta.

Dr. Camilleri first became aware of the plight of refugees as a 16-year-old girl when a priest visited her school to talk about his work. After graduating from the University of Malta in 1994, she began working in a small law firm where she came into contact with refugees. As Dr. Camilleri's interest grew in this humanitarian field, she started to work with the JRS office in Malta in 1997.

Over the last year, JRS and Dr. Camilleri have faced a series of attacks. Nine vehicles belonging to the Jesuits were burned in two separate attacks. And this April, arsonists set fire to both Dr. Camilleri's car and her front door, terrifying her family. The perpetrators were never caught but the attacks shocked Maltese society and drew condemnation from the Government of Malta. Dr. Camilleri continues to lead the JRS Malta legal team as Assistant Director.

2007 Nansen Refugee Award

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

Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie joined UNHCR chief António Guterres on the Italian island of Lampedusa, where they met with boat people who have fled unrest in North Africa.

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

Italy: Mediterranean RescuePlay video

Italy: Mediterranean Rescue

The Italy Navy rescues hundreds of migrants and asylum seekers on the high seas as the numbers of people undertaking the crossing of the Mediterranean from North Africa grows.
Italy: Thousands of Refugees Rescued in SicilyPlay video

Italy: Thousands of Refugees Rescued in Sicily

Over 1,200 migrants were rescued from inflatable boats off the boast of Lampedusa on the 7th of February by the Italian navy. Young men, women and children, crammed into eight dinghies and a boat, were spotted by helicopter half way between Tunisia and Italy.
Italy: Waiting for AsylumPlay video

Italy: Waiting for Asylum

Sicily has a high number of asylum-seekers because of its location in the south of Italy. In 2011, Cara Mineo was set up to provide asylum-seekers with a place to live while their applications were processed. Today, more than 4,000 people stay there and must wait up to a year for a decision on their applications.