Over 1,500 migrants crossing the Mediterranean to Europe from Libya and Tunisia downed or went missing last year according to the . . .[restrict]UN refugee agency UNHCR. It is the worst figure for the region since they began to be recorded in 2006. In a report published Tuesday the UNHCR also said that at least 18 people had drowned so far this year after setting off from Libya for Europe. Dozens other are missing.
According to UNHCR’s spokesperson Sybella Wilkes, so far this year, “despite high seas and poor weather conditions,” three boats had attempted the perilous journey from Libya. One of them – carrying 55 people – had vanished altogether.
“Libyan coastguards informed UNHCR that 15 dead bodies, all identified as Somali, were found washed up on the beaches last week, including 12 women, two men and a baby girl. On Sunday, three more bodies were recovered,” Wilkes said. It was later confirmed that all those who drowned were Somali residents of the makeshift site in Tripoli known as the Railway Project.
The other two boats made it to Malta and Italy, but required rescuing. The Italian coastguard saved 72 Somalis, including a pregnant woman and 29 children, on January 13. The second boat was rescued two days later by the Maltese armed forces with the support of the US navy and a commercial vessel. In total 68 people were rescued from a drifting dinghy.
Wilkes believes the 2011 figures could even be higher. “Our estimates are based on interviews with people who reached Europe on boats, telephone calls and e-mails from relatives, as well as reports from Libya and Tunisia from survivors whose boats either sank or were in distress in the early stages of the journey,” she explained.
Wilkes also revealed that a record 58,000 irregular migrants, asylum-seekers and refugees managed to make it to European shores last year after setting off in boats from Asia or North Africa. The previous high was in 2008, when 54,000 people reached Greece, Italy and Malta. [/restrict]