UNHCR estimates some 6,000 people have been rescued by the Italian Navy from over forty overcrowded boats in the Mediterranean off the shores of Sicily and Calabria in the past four days. They have disembarked in the ports of Augusta, Catania, Porto Empedocle, Messina and Pozzallo in Sicily and Roccella Jonica in Calabria.
Large numbers of women and children, including newborns and unaccompanied children, were amongst those rescued. They had set off from Zwara in Libya, and many were fleeing violence, conflict and persecution. Main countries of origin include Syria, Eritrea, Somalia, Nigeria, Gambia, Mali and Senegal.
The Mediterranean is one of the busiest seaways in the world, as well as a dangerous sea frontier for many asylum-seekers trying to find safety in Europe. The challenges of protecting refugees travelling irregularly by sea in search of safety, often together with people moving for other reasons, are complex. UNHCR continues to urge states to work together to rescue people at sea at the same time as looking for alternative legal channels to prevent people from having to make these dangerous journeys in the first place.
There also needs to be sufficient capacity and adequate reception conditions to receive rescued asylum-seekers and migrants. Additional reception facilities and assistance in processing arrivals, as well as identifying durable solutions for them, could be established with support from the European Union. UNHCR is ready to work with governments and other partners to identify longer-term solutions in response to the current situation.
Since the Italian government set up the rescue operation Mare Nostrum in October 2013, following the tragic shipwrecks where over 600 people died, over 20,000 persons have been rescued at sea. The total number of people arriving by sea in Italy this year is some 18,000 people. Almost 43,000 people arrived by sea in 2013. Syrians were the largest group with over 11,300 arrivals.