Growing numbers of Syrians arriving in southern Italy

News Stories, 13 September 2013

© UNHCR/F.Noy
A customs boat enters a port in southern Italy after searching for boats carrying people hoping to reach Europe. More and more Syrians are taking sea routes to the continent.

GENEVA, September 13 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency said Friday that the number of Syrians risking dangerous and irregular boat trips to reach southern Italy has risen sharply in recent weeks.

"Over the past 40 days, [some] 3,300 Syrians, of whom more than 230 were unaccompanied children, have come ashore mainly in Sicily. Some 670 of these arrivals were during the past week," UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards told journalists in Geneva.

He said that more than 30 boatloads of people have been involved. The majority have come from Egypt, although some started their journeys from Turkey. "Most of the arrivals have been families with children," he said, adding that "several people have needed hospital treatment for dehydration, and there have been instances of people having to be airlifted directly from the boat they were travelling on."

The spokesman said that a nurse from Damascus died as she crossed last week with her husband and children. Her husband gave permission for her liver and kidneys to be used for three patients in Italy seeking organ transplants.

UNHCR estimates that more than 4,600 Syrians have arrived in Italy by sea since the beginning of 2013. About two thirds of these arrivals have been in August.

Edwards said that most of the Syrians that UNHCR had spoken to said they came from Damascus, with many being Palestinian refugees born in Syria. On arrival, people are taken to reception centres. In recent months many Syrians have moved on from countries at the European Union's external borders to other parts of Europe.

According to the latest UNHCR figures, almost 21,900 people have arrived so far in southern Italy this year. This is a significant increase on levels in 2012, when a total 7,981 people arrived. The main nationalities have been Eritreans 5,778 (594 in 2012), Somalis 2,571 (1,280 in 2012) and now Syrians 3,970 (369 in 2012).

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Cold, Uncomfortable and Hungry in Calais

For years, migrants and asylum-seekers have flocked to the northern French port of Calais in hopes of crossing the short stretch of sea to find work and a better life in England. This hope drives many to endure squalid, miserable conditions in makeshift camps, lack of food and freezing temperatures. Some stay for months waiting for an opportunity to stow away on a vehicle making the ferry crossing.

Many of the town's temporary inhabitants are fleeing persecution or conflict in countries such as Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iraq, Sudan and Syria. And although these people are entitled to seek asylum in France, the country's lack of accommodation, administrative hurdles and language barrier, compel many to travel on to England where many already have family waiting.

With the arrival of winter, the crisis in Calais intensifies. To help address the problem, French authorities have opened a day centre as well as housing facilities for women and children. UNHCR is concerned with respect to the situation of male migrants who will remain without shelter solutions. Photographer Julien Pebrel recently went to Calais to document their lives in dire sites such as the Vandamme squat and next to the Tioxide factory.

Cold, Uncomfortable and Hungry in Calais

Abdu finds his voice in Germany

When bombs started raining down on Aleppo, Syria, in 2012, the Khawan family had to flee. According to Ahmad, the husband of Najwa and father of their two children, the town was in ruins within 24 hours.

The family fled to Lebanon where they shared a small flat with Ahmad's two brothers and sisters and their children. Ahmad found sporadic work which kept them going, but he knew that in Lebanon his six-year-old son, Abdu, who was born deaf, would have little chance for help.

The family was accepted by Germany's Humanitarian Assistance Programme and resettled into the small central German town of Wächtersbach, near Frankfurt am Main. Nestled in a valley between two mountain ranges and a forest, the village has an idyllic feel.

A year on, Abdu has undergone cochlear implant surgery for the second time. He now sports two new hearing aids which, when worn together, allow him to hear 90 per cent. He has also joined a regular nursery class, where he is learning for the first time to speak - German in school and now Arabic at home. Ahmed is likewise studying German in a nearby village, and in two months he will graduate with a language certificate and start looking for work. He says that he is proud at how quickly Abdu is learning and integrating.

Abdu finds his voice in Germany

A Teenager in Exile

Like fathers and sons everywhere, Fewaz and Malak sometimes struggle to coexist. A new haircut and a sly cigarette are all it takes to raise tensions in the cramped apartment they currently call home. But, despite this, a powerful bond holds them together: refugees from Syria, they have been stranded for almost a year in an impoverished neighbourhood of Athens.

They fled their home with the rest of the family in the summer of 2012, after war threw their previously peaceful life into turmoil. From Turkey, they made several perilous attempts to enter Greece.

Thirteen-year-old Malak was the first to make it through the Evros border crossing. But Fewaz, his wife and their two other children were not so lucky at sea, spending their life savings on treacherous voyages on the Mediterranean only to be turned back by the Greek coastguard.

Finally, on their sixth attempt, the rest of the family crossed over at Evros. While his wife and two children travelled on to Germany, Fewaz headed to Athens to be reunited with Malak.

"When I finally saw my dad in Athens, I was so happy that words can't describe," says Malak. However, the teenager is haunted by the possibility of losing his father again. "I am afraid that if my dad is taken, what will I do without him?"

Until the family can be reunited, Malak and his father are determined to stick together. The boy is learning to get by in Greek. And Fewaz is starting to get used to his son's haircut.

A Teenager in Exile

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