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."

• DONATE NOW •

 

• GET INVOLVED • • STAY INFORMED •

Asylum-Seekers

UNHCR advocates fair and efficient procedures for asylum-seekers

Asylum and Migration

Asylum and Migration

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

Statistics

Numbers are important in the aid business and UNHCR's statisticians monitor them daily.

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.

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 Faces of Asylum

Everyone has a right to be treated humanely and with dignity. But asylum-seekers can sometimes be detained for years, forced to exist on the edge of society and struggle for their right to protection, while in some cases suffering human rights abuses. Their temporary new homes - a long way from the ones they left behind - can be sports halls, churches, closed centres, makeshift shelters or simply the street. Lives are put on hold while people wait in the hope of receiving refugee status.

Although it is the legitimate right of any government to secure its borders and prevent irregular immigration, it is important that anyone seeking asylum in a country have access to it. According to international law, states are obliged to provide protection to those in need, and must not return a person to a place where their life or freedom is threatened.

This photo set looks at the faces of people seeking asylum in industrialized countries - the real people behind the numbers, crossing land borders and oceans in search of safety, work or just a better life.

The Faces of Asylum

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

UNHCR - IDC video on alternatives to detention for childrenPlay video

UNHCR - IDC video on alternatives to detention for children

The story of a young boy and girl forced to flee their homes, and how detention can be avoided in order to complete their migration status.
Italy: Survivors of the Sea Tragedy Play video

Italy: Survivors of the Sea Tragedy

The 28 survivors of what is expected to be the biggest migration sea tragedy in the Mediterranean finally landed ashore in Sicily, Italy. Earlier in the day the recovered bodies of those who lost their lives where taken to Malta earlier in the day. Around 800 people lost their lives in the tragedy, only 24 bodies were recovered.
Italy: Haunted by a Sinking Ship Play video

Italy: Haunted by a Sinking Ship

"Every time I try to sleep I see what I saw in the water, what happened to me, the dead children" Thamer & Thayer, brothers from Syria, escaped war, then unrest in Libya only to be faced with death on the Mediterranean The Lampedusa boat tragedies sparked a debate on asylum policies in Europe, leading Italian authorities to launch a search and rescue operation in the Mediterranean Sea. Called Mare Nostrum, the operation had rescued more than 63,000 people at the time this video was published in July 2014.