Every year, Europe’s favourite summer playground - the Mediterranean Sea - turns into a graveyard as hundreds of men, women and children drown in a desperate bid to reach European Union (EU) countries.
The Italian island of Lampedusa is just 290 kilometres off the coast of Libya. In 2006, some 18,000 people crossed this perilous stretch of sea – mostly on inflatable dinghies fitted with an outboard engine. Some were seeking employment, others wanted to reunite with family members and still others were fleeing persecution, conflict or indiscriminate violence and had no choice but to leave through irregular routes in their search for safety.
Of those who made it to Lampedusa, some 6,000 claimed asylum. And nearly half of these were recognized as refugees or granted some form of protection by the Italian authorities.
In August 2007, the authorities in Lampedusa opened a new reception centre to ensure that people arriving by boat or rescued at sea are received in a dignified way and are provided with adequate accommodation and medical facilities.
All photos: UNHCR / A. Di Loreto / July 2007, except no.15: UNHCR / W. Spindler / August 2007