News / Africa

Risking Death to Reach Safety in Europe

Migrants arrive at a detention center in Manduria in southern Italy, March 27, 2011. The center was established to help the many African migrants and refugees who fled North African countries.
Migrants arrive at a detention center in Manduria in southern Italy, March 27, 2011. The center was established to help the many African migrants and refugees who fled North African countries.
TEXT SIZE - +
Joe DeCapua

The Mediterranean Sea was a deadliest stretch of water in 2011for refugees and migrants. The U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, says more than 1,500 people drowned or went missing while fleeing Africa for Europe.

UNHCR spokesperson Sybella Wilkes says the actual number of deaths may be much higher. She says the figure is just an estimate and many boats may have sunk and gone unreported.

“By all accounts it was a terrible year. Basically what happened was with the regimes collapsing in Tunisia and Libya this reopened up routes to Europe. But it meant that some of the most vulnerable people in the world were basically taken in by smugglers and put in the most life threatening of situations,” she said.

The smugglers on the Mediterranean differ in their methods than those on the Gulf of Aden. In the gulf, they often rob, kill or throw Ethiopian and Somali refugees overboard en route to Yemen. Wilkes explains what’s been happening on the Mediterranean.

“What we heard was that the smugglers were not actually going on the boats themselves. What they were doing was gathering groups of refugees and migrants that wanted to travel and then they were obliging them to skipper the boats themselves. So, we saw in a number of situations these boats getting terribly lost, running out of water. In some cases, even the passengers turning on each other and in addition in unseaworthy vessels,” she said.

Seeking a new home

The UNHCR estimated more than 58,000 refugees and migrants from Africa arrived in Europe in 2011.

Wilkes said, “Of that number, the vast majority, about 56,000, arrived in Italy and the rest arrived in Greece and Malta by Sea. There was quite a high number that came across the land border to Greece, about 55,000 people.”

So far in 2012, UNHCR says three boats have attempted to make the crossing from Libya, despite high seas and bad weather. One of the boats, carrying 55 people, reported engine problems on January 14 and went missing. Since then, Libyan naval officials say the bodies of 15 Somalis washed ashore last week, including 12 women, two men and a baby girl.

“Certainly the most recent arrivals it’s been very high numbers of Somalis. According to our own guidelines, all of these people should automatically be considered to be refugees because of the current situation in Somalia. So these are clearly very, very vulnerable people. The majority are women and children trying to make this terrible journey,” said Wilkes.

Somalis in Libya tell UNHCR they face widespread discrimination. They and other Africans say reaching Europe is a necessity.

“For refugees from Somalia, from Eritrea, in the vast majority of cases it’s simply not an option for them to go back home. So, this is where they’re pursuing the option of applying for asylum and hoping to find a new home,” she said.

Those who do arrive in Europe are met by UNHCR and European humanitarian workers. The U.N. agency says it welcomes efforts by Italian, Maltese and Libyan authorities to rescue boats in distress. It also calls on captains of ships in the Mediterranean to be on the lookout for boats carrying refugees.

You May Like

Multimedia Anti-Keystone XL Protests Continue

Demonstrators are worried about pipeline's effect on climate change, their traditional way of life, health and safety More

Thailand's Political Power Struggle Continues

Court gave Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra until May 2 to prepare her defense over abuse of power charges but uncertainty remains over election timing More

Malaysia Plane Search Tests Limits of Ocean Mapping Technology

Expert tells VOA existing equipment’s maximum operating depth is around 6 kilometers as operation continues on ocean bed for any trace of MH370 More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Messagei
X
Penelope Poulou
April 22, 2014 5:53 PM
Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Message

Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pro-Russian Separatists Plan 'Federalization Referendum' in Eastern Ukraine

Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine say they plan to move forward next month with a referendum vote for greater autonomy, despite the Geneva agreement reached with Russia, the U.S. and Ukraine to end the political conflict. VOA's Brian Padden reports from the city of Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine.
Video

Video Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

French filmmaker Luc Jacquet won worldwide acclaim for his 2005 Academy Award-winning documentary "March of the Penguins". Now Jacquet is back with a new film that takes movie-goers deep into the heart of a tropical rainforest - not only to celebrate its grandeur, but to make the case for its survival. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Boston Marathon Bittersweet for Many Runners

Monday's running of the Boston Marathon was bittersweet for many of the 36,000 participants as they finished the run that was interrupted by a double bombing last year. Many gathered along the route paid respect to the four people killed as a result of two bombings near the finish line. VOA's Carolyn Presutti returned to Boston this year to follow two runners, forever changed because of the crimes.
Video

Video International Students Learn Film Production in World's Movie Capital

Hollywood - which is part of Los Angeles - is the movie capital of the world, and many aspiring filmmakers go there in hopes of breaking into the movie business. Mike O'Sullivan reports that regional universities are also a magnet for students who hope to become producers or directors.
Video

Video Pacific Rim Trade Deal Proves Elusive

With the U.S.-led war in Iraq ended and American military involvement in Afghanistan winding down, President Barack Obama has sought to pivot the country's foreign policy focus towards Asia. One aspect of that pivot is the negotiation of a free-trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations. But as Obama leaves this week on a trip to four Asian countries he has found it very difficult to complete the trade pact. VOA's Ken Bredemeier has more from Washington.
Video

Video Autistic Adults Face Housing, Job Challenges

Many parents of children with disabilities fear for the future of their adult child. It can be difficult to find services to help adults with disabilities - physical, mental or emotional - find work or live on their own. The mother of an autistic boy set up a foundation to advocate for the estimated 1.2 million American adults with autism, a developmental disorder that causes communication difficulties and often social difficulties. VOA's Faiza Elmasry reports.
AppleAndroid