1,500 migrants died trying to reach Europe in 2011-UN
Tue Jan 31, 2012 3:44pm GMT
* Record toll linked to political upheaval in North Africa
GENEVA Jan 31 (Reuters) - A record 1,500 migrants, mainly from Somalia and
other parts of Africa, died trying to reach European shores in 2011 and the
deadly odyssey continues from Libya, the United Nations refugee agency
(UNHCR) said on Tuesday.
It said popular uprisings in Tunisia and Libya prompted more people to flee
last year, including sub-Saharan migrants working in North Africa, after
tighter border measures sharply reduced arrivals in Europe in 2009 and 2010.
"This makes 2011 the deadliest year for this region since UNHCR started to
record these statistics in 2006," Sybella Wilkes, spokeswoman for the U.N.
High Commissioner for Refugees, told a news briefing.
The UNHCR toll is an estimate that includes people of 15 nationalities known
to have drowned or gone missing in the Mediterranean Sea, which divides
Europe and Africa.
More than 58,000 people arrived in Europe by sea last year, also a record,
including 56,000 who landed in Italy, half of them Tunisian, Wilkes said.
Malta and Greece received 1,574 and 1,030 people, respectively, by sea.
"Most were migrants, not asylum-seekers," she said.
In addition, 55,000 "irregular" migrants crossed the land border between
Greece and Turkey at Evros last year, according to Greek government figures.
Last April and May, armed forces loyal to then-Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi
forced migrants onto boats which they often had to skipper themselves in
harrowing conditions, said Wilkes.
Despite high seas and poor mid-winter weather, three boats are known to have
attempted the perilous journey from Libya already this year, one of which
went missing at sea with at least 55 people on board after raising the
alarm, Wilkes said.
Libyan coast guards have told the UNHCR that 18 bodies have washed up in the
past week, including a dozen women and a baby girl, most of whom were
Somalis living in Tripoli, she said.
Italian, Maltese and Libyan authorities were making efforts to rescue boats
in distress in the Mediterranean. But the UNHCR renewed its call for all
ships to carry out their duty of rescuing vessels in distress, in line with
international law. (Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Mark
C Thomson Reuters 2012 All rights reserved
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Received on Wed Feb 01 2012 - 16:49:04 EST