UNHCR Briefing – Geneva, 05.07.2013

1-     Mediterranean crossings to Italy and Malta exceed 8000 in first six months of 2013

 2-     Situation in CAR remains unstable, humanitarian access difficult, civilians in fear

This is a summary of what was said by the UNHCR spokesperson at today’s Palais des Nations press briefing in Geneva.

 

1-    Mediterranean crossings to Italy and Malta exceed 8000 in first six months of 2013

UNHCR estimates that approximately 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.

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 is one of the busiest seaways in the world, as well as a dangerous sea 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. 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.

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 this perilous 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).

UNHCR has recorded some 40 deaths in the first six months of 2013 by people attempting to cross the Mediterranean between North Africa and Italy. This number is based on interviews conducted with people who reached Europe using boats.

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 particular the Italian coastguard and the Maltese armed forces, in effectively coordinating rescue at sea. UNHCR also welcomes the on-going 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 fulfil their obligations under international refugee law and law of the sea.

2-    Situation in CAR remains unstable, humanitarian access difficult, civilians in fear

Three months after the ousting of the Central African Republic government, UNHCR is extremely concerned for the situation of more than 200,000 internally displaced people and over 20,000 refugees there.

Over the past month, and together with our partners, we have had some limited access to parts of Bangui, as well as further afield in CAR – namely Ouham, Batangafo, Bambari, Kaga Bandoro and Mbaiki. These visits were intended to assess the general situation of people affected by the recent insecurity. The findings are very troubling.

Overall, there remains a serious absence of security, and  lawlessness is widespread. Our staff on these missions received reports of arbitrary arrest and illegal detention, torture, extortion, armed robbery, physical violence including sexual violence, rape and attempted rape, abduction, restriction of movement, targeted lootings and attacks on civilians. Villages and houses had been burnt down in some areas by armed groups.

Violence against women, girls and boys had also increased. Humanitarian agencies, working under an inter-agency response, have been giving assistance and counselling to victims in some locations.

Of additional concern to UNHCR is the recent arrest of one of our former government counterparts who worked in Bangui. We are currently seeking information about this person from the authorities, and assurances of his safety.

Although schools have reopened in parts of CAR, in many areas they remain closed. Access to health and basic services is also very limited.  Mothers with new-born babies in many areas have no access to medical care and new births are not being registered.

Despite the volatile security situation, UNHCR and its partners are coordinating efforts to assist refugees living in camps in CAR (mainly of Congolese and Sudanese nationality).

UNHCR, along with the World Food Programme and the International Medical Corps, has been able to distribute food to some 11,000 refugees in the refugee camps of Batalimo, Bambari and Zemio. Refugees also received plantation seeds in the Zemio refugee camp.

In neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) where over 40,000 CAR refugees have arrived, UNHCR continues to work with the national authorities to relocate refugees from the bordering areas into safer locations. A majority of refugees are in DRC’s Equateur and Oriental provinces.

Nearly 60,000 people have fled CAR since December 2012. As more people continue to flee insecurity, the total number of refugees from CAR in the region now stands at over 220,000. UNHCR has recorded some 1000 refugees arriving in DRC last month.

 

END

 

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