UNHCR and partners working to help manage Tunisian arrivals in Italy

© Ciro Fusco/ANSA

UNHCR and its partners from the International Organisation for Migration and Save the Children Fund are in southern Italy working with local authorities to manage the recent influx of Tunisians. According to the Italian Government over 5,200 people have arrived since mid-January, with the vast majority arriving in the past week.

While most are young men, UNHCR knows of at least 20 women and over 200 minors, many unaccompanied. UNHCR is concerned that people smugglers in Tunisia are exploiting youth by promising them a better life in Europe. Although the journey is short, high seas and bad weather can make it perilous. Most of the new arrivals are in good health, but some have arrived soaked through and suffering exhaustion. UNHCR has received unconfirmed reports that at least four people have drowned.

It has been described by the Italian Government as a humanitarian emergency and UNHCR appreciates the sensitive approach taken so far. While most are arriving in search of employment, all actors have recognized that the group might contain some who need to apply for asylum. Indeed, discussions with new arrivals have shown that some are citing fear of violence and a breakdown of law and order in their home regions.

The Italian Government has clearly stated its commitment to providing access to asylum procedures for those who are seeking international protection. UNHCR welcomes this commitment and urges solidarity with Italy as it faces this new chapter of mixed migration. UNHCR hopes that any mechanisms designed to control irregular migration will continue to ensure access to asylum for people in need of protection.

The large number of people arriving over such a short period has put a significant pressure on the small island of Lampedusa. A reception centre designed for 800 people is currently holding over 2,000. Following a number of flights to relieve congestion in Lampedusa, other reception centres in Italy are also believed to be reaching capacity. UNHCR appreciated the efforts of 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.