This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Babar Baloch – to whom quoted text may be attributed – at today’s press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.
The total number of people crossing the Central Mediterranean since the beginning of the year has now passed 60,000, with close to 9,500 migrants and refugees rescued over the past week and disembarked in various Italian ports.
A total of 50 bodies were disembarked over the past few days in Crotone, Palermo and Catania following an undetermined number of incidents, in which dozens of others are feared dead or missing at sea. The total number of dead and missing since the beginning of 2017 has now reached over 1,720.
Some 33 people lost their lives in a particularly deadly shipwreck, including 13 women and 7 children, with dozens others feared missing. The incident happened early morning on 24 May. As rescue operations started, refugees and migrants panicked and the boat took on water. The three-level wooden embarkation had left Libya the night before, with 700 to 900 passengers on board, including 300 persons crammed in the hold. A total of 593 survivors were disembarked in Crotone last Saturday and are receiving help, including psychological support, as many are deeply traumatized. Most come from Sudan, Eritrea, the Comoro Islands, Egypt and Morocco.
A second shipwreck was reported to us by survivors disembarked in Crotone on Friday. A dinghy carrying 126 people, mostly from Nigeria, Ghana, Sudan and Cameroon, left Sabratha, Libya, late morning on Wednesday 23 May. After a few hours, it deflated and people fell into water. An Egyptian fishing boat came to rescue them, but 82 people went dead or missing.
On 27 May, the Tunisian Coastguard rescued a boat carrying 126 people, including 48 women, a 5-year old boy and 3 babies, and took them to the port of Zarzis. The body of a Nigerian woman was also recovered from the boat which had departed from the Libyan port of Sabratha two days earlier. In close coordination with the Tunisian authorities, medical checks were carried out by MSF upon disembarkation, and those in need transferred to Zarzis regional hospital for treatment. Local volunteers provided food and drinking water to survivors, who were registered by the Tunisian authorities. The most vulnerable individuals are accommodated in a UNHCR dormitory, where they are receiving help, including clothes and relief items, from UNHCR and its partner, the Tunisian Red Crescent.
We have received deeply worrying reports of incidents at sea during crossings. Survivors disembarked in Salerno last Saturday told our staff that their boat was approached by criminals who stole their belongings and took their engine off, shooting in the air on several occasions. Luckily, nobody was wounded in the incident.
Several refugees and migrants landed on Lampedusa over the week-end had gunshot wounds. One man told our staff that he was shot in the leg by members of Libyan militias who also stole his belongings. Another man was shot in the arm and tortured by a trafficker to extract money from him. Many survivors also reported having witnessed friends being fired at or killed while in Libya.
Saving lives remains the top priority. UNHCR praises the Italian Coastguard for their constant efforts in coordinating rescue operations as well as the Tunisian Coastguard and the crew of all the ships involved for saving so many lives. We reiterate our call for credible alternatives to these dangerous crossings for people in need of international protection, including accessible and safe ways to reach Europe such as family reunification, resettlement and private sponsorship.