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Asylum and Migration

What We Do
© UNHCR / A. Di Loreto

All in the same boat: The challenges of mixed migration

Climbing over razor wire fences, taking to sea in leaking boats or stowing away in airless containers, refugees and migrants around the world risk their lives every day in desperate attempts to find safety or a better life.

Behind the dramatic headlines and the striking images of people on the move, there are personal stories of courage, tragedy and compassion. Although refugees and migrants often use the same routes and modes of transport they have different protection needs.

Factors that have contributed to the increase in the scale of international migration include globalization and growing disparities in living conditions, both within and between countries. Among the people on the move today, many are seeking employment or educational opportunities, others want to reunite with family members and still more are fleeing persecution, conflict or blind violence in their countries.

While refugees and asylum seekers account for only a small proportion of the global movement of people, they frequently travel alongside migrants. Many of these movements are irregular, in the sense that they often take place without the requisite documentation, use unauthorized border crossing points or involve smugglers.

The people who move in this manner place their lives at risk. They are often obliged to travel in inhumane conditions and may be exposed to exploitation and abuse. States regard such movements as a threat to their sovereignty and security. And yet this may be, in some cases, the only escape route open to those fleeing war or persecution.

While recognizing that border controls are essential for combatting international crime, including smuggling and trafficking, UNHCR stresses the need for practical protection safeguards to ensure that such measures are not applied in an indiscriminate or disproportionate manner and do not lead to refugees being returned to countries where their life or liberty would be at risk.

UNHCR works with governments around the world to help them respond to some of these challenges in a coherent and practical way. An example of this is a 10-point plan which UNHCR is implementing. It sets out key areas in which action is required to address mixed migration in countries of origin, transit and destination.

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.

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Key Facts & Figures
Greece (mainland and islands)
Irregular arrivals by sea from Turkey:

3,610 (2012)**

1,030 (2011)*

1,765 (2010)

10,165 (2009)

15,300 (2008)

19,900 (2007)

9,050 (2006)

* 55,000 crossed the Greek-Turkish land border at the river Evros

** 47,088 crossed the Greek-Turkish land border at the river Evros

Reported dead and missing in 2012: N/A

Reported dead and missing in 2011: 7 + 44

Reported dead and missing in 2010: 36 + 5

Reported dead and missing in 2009: 24 + 59

Reported dead or missing in 2008: not available

Reported dead or missing in 2007: 159

Italy (mainland and islands)

Irregular arrivals by sea from North Africa, Greece and Turkey:

13,200 (2012)

61,000 (2011)*

4,348 (2010)

9,573 (2009)

36,000 (2008)

19,900 (2007)

22,000 (2006)

* 56,000 from Libya and Tunisia and 5,000 from Greece and Turkey

Reported dead or missing in 2012: N/A

Reported dead or missing in 2011: **

Reported dead and missing in 2010: 4 + 4

Reported dead and missing in 2009: 101 + 228

Reported dead or missing in 2008: 525

Reported dead or missing in 2007: 471

** Based on telephone calls from boats in distress and reports from survivors and family members, UNHCR estimates that 1,500 people died attempting to make the journey from Libya to Europe.

Malta

Irregular arrivals by sea from North Africa:

1,890 (2012)

1,574 (2011)

28 (2010)

1,470 (2009)

2,700 (2008)

1,800 (2007)

1,800 (2006)

Reported dead or missing in 2011: ***

Reported dead or missing in 2010: 0

*** Based on reports from survivors and family members, UNHCR estimates that 1,500 people died attempting to make the journey from Libya to Europe.

Spain (mainland and islands)
Irregular arrivals by sea from North and West Africa:

3,804 (2012)

5,443 (2011)

3,632 (2010)

7,285 (2009)

13,400 (2008)

18,000 (2007)

39,180 (2006)*

Reported dead or missing in 2011: not available

Reported dead or missing in 2010: 74

Reported dead or missing in 2009: 127

Reported dead or missing in 2008: 120

Reported dead or missing in 2007: 360

* mainly to the Canary Islands

Yemen

Irregular arrivals by sea from Somalia:

107,500 (2012)

103,000 (2011)

53,382 (2010)

77,310 (2009)

50,000 (2008)

29,500 (2007)

29,000 (2006)

Reported dead in 2012: 100

Reported dead in 2011: 130

Reported dead in 2009: 309

Reported dead or missing in 2008: 949

Reported dead or missing in 2007: 1,400

Talking about Migration

Talking about Migration

Assistant High Commissioner for Protection Erika Feller discusses the challenges UNHCR faces in ensuring protection for refugees travelling in mixed migration flows.

Refugees Magazine Issue 148

Refugee or Migrant? Why it Matters.

Testimonial: Assistant High Commissioner Erika FellerPlay video

Testimonial: Assistant High Commissioner Erika Feller

A testimony by Assistant High Commissioner Erika Feller

Sighted off Spain's Canary Islands

Despite considerable dangers, migrants seeking a better future and refugees fleeing war and persecution continue to board flimsy boats and set off across the high seas. One of the main routes into Europe runs from West Africa to Spain's Canary Islands.

Before 2006, most irregular migrants taking this route used small vessels called pateras, which can carry up to 20 people. They left mostly from Morocco and the Western Sahara on the half-day journey. The pateras have to a large extent been replaced by boats which carry up to 150 people and take three weeks to reach the Canaries from ports in West Africa.

Although only a small proportion of the almost 32,000 people who arrived in the Canary Islands in 2006 applied for asylum, the number has gone up. More than 500 people applied for asylum in 2007, compared with 359 the year before. This came at a time when the overall number of arrivals by sea went down by 75 percent during 2007.

Sighted off Spain's Canary Islands

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

Crossing the Gulf of Aden

Every year thousands of people in the Horn of Africa - mainly Somalis and Ethiopians - leave their homes out of fear or pure despair, in search of safety or a better life. They make their way over dangerous Somali roads to Bossaso in the northern semi-autonomous region of Puntland.

In this lawless area, smuggler networks have free reign and innocent and desperate civilians pay up to US$150 to make the perilous trip across the Gulf of Aden.

Some stay weeks on end in safe houses or temporary homes in Bossaso before they can depart. A sudden call and a departure in the middle of the night, crammed in small unstable boats. At sea, anything can happen to them - they are at the whim of smugglers. Some people get beaten, stabbed, killed and thrown overboard. Others drown before arriving on the beaches of Yemen, which have become the burial ground for hundreds who many of those who died en route.

Crossing the Gulf of Aden