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Croatia Rescues 65 People From Adriatic Sea

  • Lisa Schlein

Illegal immigrants are seen on a sailboat near island of Mljet, southern Croatia, Monday, July 2, 2012.

Illegal immigrants are seen on a sailboat near island of Mljet, southern Croatia, Monday, July 2, 2012.

GENEVA — The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, or UNHCR, says the Croatian Coast Guard has rescued 65 people on Monday from a boat adrift in the Adriatic Sea. The UNHCR says the boat was spotted drifting off the Croatian island of Mljet on Sunday night.

The U.N. refugee agency praised the actions of the Croatian Coast Guard, but said unfortunately, not all cases of boats adrift at sea have a happy ending. It said that sometimes passing vessels ignore distress signals from people at sea, resulting in deaths.

UNHCR Spokesman Adrian Edwards said the Coast Guard crew provided food, water and medical supplies to the people onboard and towed the vessel into harbor in Dubrovnik, where some of the rescued passengers are receiving medical attention.

“The boat, as we understand at the moment, left Greece," said Edwards."It lost power. It was adrift for two days. All the passengers were male, reportedly of 12 different nationalities - including Syrians, Afghans, Somalis and Egyptians. At the request of the authorities, our partner, the Croatian Red Cross, is on the ground providing humanitarian and medical assistance in Gruz harbor. Reportedly, some passengers require urgent medical help. Blankets and other basic aid also being made available to them.”

The UNHCR is closely following the situation. But information is sketchy. Another U.N. refugee spokesman, Andrej Mahecic, says UNHCR staff will interview the survivors to determine when and why they left Greece. He says U.N. staff will find out whether those onboard are migrants or people seeking asylum. Given the countries from which they come, he says, it is likely that some, if not all, of the passengers are in need of international protection.

Mahecic says the border between Turkey and Greece is a main point of entry into Europe for migrants and asylum seekers. He says the Greek asylum system does not adequately identify those who are in need of asylum.

“The recognition rates in Greece are lower, for example, let us say for refugees from Somalia or from Iraq," said Mahecic. "The recognition rate is much lower, for example in Greece than in some other European countries. So clearly, many people who arrive in Greece face difficulties there and many of them even before. This is just the latest example. But we know for a fact that many people have moved overland or using other routes to get to other European countries and file asylum applications there.”

The UNHCR says the Mediterranean Sea is one of the busiest migration routes into Europe through Greece, Italy and Malta. Last year, it says, more than 58,000 people made the crossing. The refugee agency estimates that more than 1,500 people drowned or went missing last year while crossing the Mediterranean, trying to reach Europe.