Latest tragedy off Libya adds to death toll in Mediterranean

News Stories, 8 July 2014

© UNHCR/ F. Noy
Tens of thousands of desperate people are attempting to reach Europe in dangerous boats like these in Libya.

GENEVA, 8 July (UNHCR) A Syrian mother and her two young children were among 12 bodies recovered after the latest boat sinking involving the thousands of people attempting to cross the Mediterranean from Libya, the UN refugee agency said on Tuesday.

UNHCR told reporters that so far this year more than 500 people are known to have died trying to cross the sea from Africa and Asia to various countries in Europe. A record 64,000 people traveling in small boats from north Africa have reached Italy alone this year more than in all of 2013.

The Libyan coast guard informed UNHCR on Monday that the dead in the latest accirdent included three Syrians including the mother and her children aged three and six -- three Eritrean nationals and six other Africans of as yet undetermined nationalities, spokesman Adrian Edwards told a news briefing.

The boat, which reportedly capsized off the coast of Tripoli, had a capacity of about 200 passengers and may have been carrying many more people, Edwards said. Search and rescue operations are ongoing and the fate of others who may have been aboard is unknown.

At least 217 people are believed to have drowned off the Libyan coast so far in 2014 while trying to cross the Mediterranean. Another 290 people are confirmed dead or missing from accidents in the waters off Italy, Turkey and Greece, bringing the death toll in the Mediterranean so far this year to over 500 people.

"UNHCR applauds search and rescue operations by government authorities but asks that such operations are further strengthened particularly in areas with high concentrations of boat crossings," Edwards said.

"We are also urging States worldwide to look at providing legal alternatives to dangerous sea journeys such as increased family reunification, speedy resettlement and humanitarian admissions," he said. "Governments are additionally being encouraged to resist punitive or deterrent measures including detention for people seeking safety."

UNHCR's Tripoli and Benghazi offices have registered almost 37,000 asylum-seekers and refugees. Syrians make up the largest group (18,655), followed by Eritreans (4,673), Somalis (2,380) and Iraqis (3,105).

"Not all asylum-seekers are registered," said Edwards. "Many asylum-seekers live in precarious conditions such as over-crowded accommodations with little legal access to employment and have been affected and further displaced by the current unrest in Libya."

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Statistics

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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

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Mixed Migration

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Asylum-Seekers

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Asylum and Migration

Asylum and Migration

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

Zero-Star "Hotel" that Asylum-Seekers Call Home in Dijon

France is one of the main destinations for asylum-seekers in Europe, with some 55,000 new asylum applications in 2012. As a result of the growing number of applicants, many French cities are facing an acute shortage of accommodation for asylum-seekers.

The government is trying to address the problem and, in February 2013, announced the creation of 4,000 additional places in state-run reception centres for asylum-seekers. But many asylum-seekers are still forced to sleep rough or to occupy empty buildings. One such building, dubbed the "Refugee Hotel" by its transient population, lies on the outskirts of the eastern city of Dijon. It illustrates the critical accommodation situation.

The former meat-packing plant is home to about 100 asylum-seekers, mostly from Chad, Mali and Somalia, but also from Georgia, Kosovo and other Eastern European countries. Most are single men, but there are also two families.

In this dank, rat-infested empty building, the pipes leak and the electricity supply is sporadic. There is only one lavatory, two taps with running water, no bathing facilities and no kitchen. The asylum-seekers sleep in the former cold-storage rooms. The authorities have tried to close the squat several times. These images, taken by British photographer Jason Tanner, show the desperate state of the building and depict the people who call it home.

Zero-Star "Hotel" that Asylum-Seekers Call Home in Dijon

The makeshift camp at Patras

Thousands of irregular migrants, some of whom are asylum-seekers and refugees, have sought shelter in a squalid, makeshift camp close to the Greek port of Patras since it opened 13 years ago. The camp consisted of shelters constructed from cardboard and wood and housed hundreds of people when it was closed by the Greek government in July 2009. UNHCR had long maintained that it did not provide appropriate accommodation for asylum-seekers and refugees. The agency had been urging the government to find an alternative and put a stronger asylum system in place to provide appropriate asylum reception facilities for the stream of irregular migrants arriving in Greece each year.The government used bulldozers to clear the camp, which was destroyed by a fire shortly afterwards. All the camp residents had earlier been moved and there were no casualties. Photographer Zalmaï, a former refugee from Afghanistan, visited the camp earlier in the year.

The makeshift camp at Patras

Beyond the Border

In 2010, the Turkish border with Greece became the main entry point for people attempting by irregular methods to reach member states of the European Union, with over 132,000 arrivals. While some entered as migrants with the simple wish of finding a better life, a significant number fled violence or persecution in countries such as Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iraq and Somalia. The journey is perilous, with many reports of drowning when people board flimsy vessels and try to cross the Mediterranean Sea or the River Evros on the border between Greece and Turkey. The many deficiencies in the Greek asylum system are exacerbated by the pressure of tens of thousands of people awaiting asylum hearings. Reception facilities for new arrivals, including asylum-seekers, are woefully inadequate. Last year, UNHCR visited a number of overcrowded facilities where children, men and women were detained in cramped rooms with insufficient facilities. UNHCR is working with the Greek government to improve its asylum system and has called upon other European states to offer support.

Beyond the Border

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