By UN News
Over 5,200 people have arrived since mid-January, according to the Italian Government, with the vast majority 4,400 having arrived during the past few days. While most are young men, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says it knows of at least 20 women and over 200 minors, many unaccompanied.
Described by the Italian Government as a humanitarian emergency, we appreciate the sensitive approach that has been taken so far, with all actors recognizing that among this mixed group there may be some who need to apply for asylum, UNHCRs spokesperson in Geneva, Melissa Fleming, told reporters.
From discussions with new arrivals it is clear that while most are coming in search of employment, others are citing fear of violence and a breakdown of law and order in their home regions, she added.
Efforts are continuing to restore stability to the North African nation, whose President, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, fled the country last month amid the growing protests and violence by protesters reportedly angered by rising prices of essential commodities, lack of employment opportunities, alleged corruption and limitations on fundamental rights and freedoms.
UNHCR said it is concerned that smugglers in Tunisia are exploiting youth by promising them a better life in Europe. The agency has received unconfirmed reports that at least four people have drowned while making the short but perilous journey across the seas.
Ms. Fleming noted that the large number of people arriving over such a short period has put a significant pressure on the small Italian island of Lampedusa. A reception centre there designed for 800 people is currently holding over 2,000, and other reception centres in Italy are also reaching capacity.
We appreciate all efforts being made by the Italian Government to provide shelter and assistance for the new arrivals and hope that a solution is found quickly to relieve the pressure on Lampedusa, she stated.
UNHCR welcomed the Italian Governments commitment to providing access to asylum procedures for those who are seeking international protection, and urged solidarity with Italy as it faces this new chapter of mixed migration.