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A rescue operation by the Irish Navy ship Le Eithne, participating in the Frontex mission Triton, on June 6, 2015. © 2015 AP Foto/Irish Defence Forces

(Brussels) – Human Rights Watch today issued a question-and-answer document that looks at the nationalities of the people risking their lives on boats on the Mediterranean to reach the European Union. It examines whether the majority of those arriving are economic migrants as United Kingdom Prime Minister David Cameron has claimed.

The document shows that most of the record number of people arriving by boat in the European Union are from five countries where there is violent conflict or severe repression: Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia, Eritrea, and Iraq. And it shows that EU member states overwhelmingly approve the protection claims of people from these five countries. 

“EU leaders should take note that the majority of the people crossing the Mediterranean by boat so far in this year are from countries where war and repression are driving out huge numbers of refugees,” said Gerry Simpson, senior refugee researcher at Human Rights Watch. “While we don’t know the factors motivating each person to make this journey, we know that once EU countries actually examine asylum seekers’ protection claims, they conclude that the overwhelming majority from Syria, Eritrea, Iraq, Somalia, and Afghanistan would face real danger if they were forced to go back.” 


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