West and Central Mediterranean situation

In 2023, over 280,000 people departed from North Africa on dangerous and irregular sea journeys to Europe, 58% more than in 2022.

Countries affected:
Algeria | Burkina Faso | Cameroon Multi-Country Office | Chad | Côte d'Ivoire | Egypt | Libya | Mali | Mauritania | Morocco | Niger | Rwanda | Senegal Multi-Country Office | Somalia | SudanTunisia
Situation plans:
2023 | 2024 
Situation reports:
2022 | 2021

Story Map - Death in the desert

women and men leaving with their bags
UNHCR has evacuated 150 asylum seekers and refugees from Libya to Rwanda on their first evacuation flight of 2023. The group includes vulnerable individuals such as women, children, survivors of violence, and those with medical conditions. In Rwanda, they will receive accommodation, food, medical care, and psychosocial support at the Emergency Transit Centre while UNHCR helps them find durable solutions such as resettlement to third countries. UNHCR has assisted over 10,000 people to depart for third countries since 2017 and continues to advocate for legal pathways for vulnerable refugees and asylum seekers. © UNHCR/Ziyad Alhamadi
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Sea Movements 2022 - 2023


Central Mediterranean route  

Western Mediterranean route  

North-west Africa Maritime route  

Year 2022  

Year 2023 

Year 2022  

Year 2023 

Year 2022  

Year 2023 








Disembarkations in North and North-west Africa







Sea arrivals in Europe







Dead and missing  







Central Mediterranean route: From Algeria, Egypt, Libya and Tunisia to Italy and Malta.

Western Mediterranean route: From Algeria and Morocco to Spain (excluding the Canary Islands).

North-west Africa maritime route: From Senegal, Mauritania, Morocco and Western Sahara to the Canary Islands. 

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2023 situation overview

In 2023, millions of people were forcibly displaced by deteriorating security and conflict in the band of countries stretching from West Africa to the East and Horn of Africa. The effects of climate change have further exacerbated forced displacement. The number of refugees in those countries grew to 6.9 million, a 15% increase from 2022, while the number of internally displaced people rose even more sharply, by 41%, to reach 27.4 million.  

Much of the new displacement was caused by the outbreak of conflict in Sudan in April 2023, which brought widespread fighting, criminality, and the collapse of banking, health, telecommunications, and other basic services. More than 6.5 million Sudanese were uprooted within the country, almost 1.3 million more sought refuge in neighbouring countries, particularly Chad, Egypt and South Sudan, while an additional 506,000 South Sudanese refugees were forced to return to their country in adverse conditions. This added significantly to the already large humanitarian needs in the region, prompting many people to move on from their first country of asylum as part of wider mixed flows. Many Eritrean refugees who had fled Sudan moved on to Uganda from Juba in South Sudan.  

The security situation in the Sahel continued to deteriorate, prompting people to flee within and beyond the region. The coup in Niger further aggravated the dire security while increasing numbers of refugees also fled Burkina Faso and Mali to countries in the Gulf of Guinea and Mauritania.  

Many people with international protection needs travelled to North Africa by land or by air, arriving from countries such as Bangladesh, Pakistan and the Syrian Arab Republic, as well as African countries including Sudan and Mali. UNHCR’s response involved outreach and identification, adjusting case processing to prioritize the most vulnerable individuals, and working with authorities and partners to address the most urgent humanitarian needs. Many of those arriving in asylum countries were unaccompanied and separated children, or highly vulnerable people who had experienced violence during their flight. UNHCR also worked with the authorities to develop contingency plans to address potential future inflows. 


People needing asylum often travelled the same routes alongside people who were not fleeing from danger. UNHCR collaborated with IOM to develop a route-based approach and initiated dialogue with States to identify and address the drivers of onward movement, and to ensure that socioeconomic inclusion and local solutions were available in countries closer to places of origin. UNHCR also worked with authorities along the routes to enhance their capacity to identify people with international protection needs and strengthened partnerships for referrals and assistance.  

UNHCR established partnerships in Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali and Niger to provide information on protection and assistance options along key routes, helping people to avoid dangerous onward journeys and to be aware of the risks of onward movement, including misinformation from smugglers.  

Working with the International Centre for Migration Policy Development, UNHCR engaged with regional Dialogues (The Khartoum Process; the Rabat Process and the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership (EUROMED)) and diplomatic missions on the management of mixed movements, making progress on humanized border management, missing people and family reunification, human trafficking, and smuggling, return and reintegration, legal mobility pathways, and climate and mobility. 


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Working with the International Centre for Migration Policy Development, UNHCR engaged with regional Dialogues (The Khartoum Process; the Rabat Process and the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership (EUROMED)) and diplomatic missions on the management of mixed movements, making progress on humanized border management, missing people and family reunification, human trafficking, and smuggling, return and reintegration, legal mobility pathways, and climate and mobility. 

234,000 new asylum-seekers were registered with UNHCR in North African countries in 2023, a 277% increase from 2022. 171,500 of them were Sudanese nationals, of whom 150,012 (87%) were registered in Egypt. It is likely that the total number of people in need of international protection in North Africa was much higher: the Sudan situation alone triggered the arrival of around 409,000 Sudanese in Egypt and more than 20,000 Sudanese in Libya, and an increase in onward movements of Sudanese was observed in other North African countries.  

In 2023, 281,924 people departed from North Africa on dangerous and irregular sea journeys to Europe, 58% more than in 2022. More than one in four (26.5%) were disembarked back in North African countries following a rescue and/or interception at sea. 3,311 people were reported dead or missing at sea, compared to 2,674 people in 2022.  

Italy, Malta and Spain registered 207,723 irregular sea arrivals, a 77% increase from 2022. Almost half of those arriving were nationals of Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia. UNHCR provided training and technical support to help the Governments of Italy, Malta and Spain to monitor and improve reception conditions and refugee status determination procedures. 

Arrivals in Italy increased by 73%, with more than twice as many people sailing from Tunisia compared to 2022, but 12% fewer arriving from Libya. Guineans, Tunisians, Ivorians, Bangladeshis and Egyptians were the most common nationalities, although there was a twentyfold increase in the numbers of Burkinabe arrivals and a fivefold increase in Malians and Sudanese. UNHCR conducted 79 monitoring visits to facilities hosting displaced people in Italy and engaged authorities in over 1,000 protection advocacy interventions. UNHCR also worked jointly with the municipalities of Bari, Milan, Naples, Palermo, Rome, and Turin to launch the Charter for Integration (Carta per l’integrazione), wherein municipalities agreed to promote integration activities. These include the creation of local multifunctional integration centres (Spazi Comuni), which offer services to refugees.


The network of private companies in the “Welcome Programme” was also expanded, supporting more than 20,000 refugees with job inclusion pathways and opportunities. UNHCR also supported 8 new refugee-led organizations through the PartecipAzione network, which already comprised 60 organizations across the country. 

Spain received 57,070 arrivals, a 91% increase. 40,329 (71% of Spain’s total) arrived in the Canary Islands, where most of the new arrivals had sailed from Senegal (19,015) or Mauritania (5,737), marking a new trend.  

Following recommendations from UNHCR, the police authority established a mechanism to facilitate access to asylum procedures in the detention centre on the Canary Islands, bringing a marked improvement in timely registration and improved reception conditions for arrivals by sea.  

Departures from Morocco and Western Sahara to Spain also increased by 29%. However, arrivals on the western Mediterranean route decreased by 18% to 16,741. The most common nationalities among those arriving in mainland Spain were Senegalese, Moroccans, Algerians, Malians and Gambians.  


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UNHCR provided technical and financial support to three new refugee-led organizations (RLOs) in Spain, and added 19 RLOs to the national network, bringing it to over 60 refugee-led and community-based organizations. RLOs are essential partners in ensuring two-way communication with refugee communities, reinforcing information provision, and identifying appropriate sustainable solutions to challenges and protection needs faced by refugees. The Spanish RLO network identified protection risks and needs, informing UNHCR’s protection response and planning, and fostered an environment for information exchange, serving as a platform for capacity-sharing and networking among refugee-led organizations, which contributed significantly to the inclusion and empowerment of refugees and asylum-seekers. 

Only 380 people arrived in Malta in 2023, while 817 arrived on the Greek island of Crete, having sailed from eastern Libya. UNHCR conducted 63 visits to localities hosting displaced people in Malta in order to identify their needs, provide them with information, and make referrals, especially for the most vulnerable. UNHCR also provided information and support for the inclusion and integration of refugees and asylum-seekers, including help with obtaining bus cards, opening bank accounts, preparing CVs, searching for jobs, applying for employment licences, and enrolling in basic language classes. 

74,371 individuals were disembarked in Algeria, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia in 2023. The number of people disembarked rose sharply in all those countries except Libya, where the number of disembarkations fell by one-third. UNHCR continued to underscore that Libya was not a place of safety for the disembarkation of people rescued and intercepted at sea.  

UNHCR continued to advocate for the creation of robust and predictable State-led search and rescue capacity, coupled with regional cooperative arrangements ensuring predictable, safe disembarkation and subsequent processing of refugees and migrants rescued at sea. Search and rescue efforts continued to be unpredictable or ad hoc, and UNHCR engaged in dialogue with Mediterranean and West African coastal States to strengthen broad-based cooperation on protection at sea. UNHCR advocated strongly, including with the EU and AU, to ensure that people rescued at sea were disembarked in a place of safety and encouraged international solidarity on access to protection and solutions. Regular meetings were also held with NGOs, UN agencies and INGOs involved in search and rescue, allowing an exchange of information on key challenges in conducting search and rescue in the central Mediterranean Sea, and on joint advocacy opportunities. UNHCR engaged with shipping companies and the International Chamber of Shipping to strengthen collaboration and raise awareness of the operational and commercial challenges faced by shipmasters in rescue operations involving refugees and migrants in distressed vessels at sea, and the applicable obligations under international law. UNHCR also maintained contact with IMO, Frontex, ICRC, and other partners through periodic meetings of the Inter-Agency Group on the protection of refugees and migrants moving by sea.  

UNHCR welcomed the European Union’s progress in reaching a political agreement on the draft EU Pact on Migration and Asylum, a key opportunity to create a common legal framework for fair and fast asylum procedures and solidarity and responsibility-sharing mechanisms among States.


The Pact is the opportunity for sustainable, protection-sensitive reforms of asylum and migration management across the EU and, if implemented with sufficient safeguards, has the potential to secure a comprehensive, well-managed and predictable approach to asylum and migration.  

UNHCR continued to use resettlement, complementary pathways, and evacuations to provide protection and solutions as a life-saving response. Evacuations of vulnerable refugees and asylum-seekers from Libya remained critical as part of the broader protection strategy in Libya, with 785 individuals departing through the Emergency Transit Mechanisms (ETMs) in Niger and Rwanda. UNHCR worked to speed up evacuation and resettlement, but departure delays often exceeding six months, limited the number of evacuations which could take place from Libya.

This also in turn limited UNHCR’s ability to refer cases from ETM Rwanda to the US Refugee Admissions Program. On 31 December 2023, there were 529 refugees awaiting solutions at the ETM in Niger and 699 in ETM Rwanda. 


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To prevent dangerous onward movements and address heightened protection risks and vulnerabilities, UNHCR commenced group resettlement processing for 33,000 refugees in Ethiopia. This group of refugees from Eritrea, South Sudan and Sudan were registered between 1992 and 2017 and endured multiple displacements due to the conflict in several regions of Ethiopia since 2020. UNHCR also continued efforts in Ethiopia, Sudan and other countries in the East Africa region to facilitate family reunifications, despite administrative and legal barriers which also contribute to onward mixed movements. 

To reinforce its commitment to safeguarding the rights and well-being of refugees and migrants involved in irregular mixed movements on land and sea, UNHCR undertook continuous engagement and advocacy efforts with States, intergovernmental institutions and partners such as IOM, International Centre for Migration Policy Development (ICMPD), Mixed Migration Centre (MMC), ICRC, IFRC, under the framework of the Khartoum and Rabat Processes, and bilaterally. In the Khartoum and Rabat Processes, UNHCR supported asylum and protection, return, reintegration, climate action, missing people, regular pathways and combating trafficking in persons. Under their Framework for Engagement, UNHCR and IOM worked together to revitalize the AU-EU-UN Task Force on Libya. UNHCR also started engagement with ICRC, IOM and ICMP on missing people. 

In support of victims of trafficking and individuals at risk along the Central Mediterranean route, UNHCR continued engagement with IOM and UNODC under the joint initiative PACTAS, the Platform for Action on Cases of Trafficking and Aggravated Smuggling, which facilitated referrals of 32 incidents to appropriate cross-regional bodies and national authorities, and UN structures, for protection and assistance of trafficking victims.  

UNHCR embarked on joint research initiatives to better understand the profiles, protection needs and risks for people on the move, and to bolster responses along the routes. Its partnership with the MMC resulted in 2,257 surveys in Djibouti, Kenya, Somalia and Sudan to identify the profiles of people on the move, assess needs and understand their onward movement intentions. To better understand the evolution of protection needs and movement intentions over time, 186 longitudinal surveys were conducted in Kenya and Sudan with a further 953 interviews to research irregular journeys of children and youth on the move in Sudan and Tunisia as countries of transit and destination. UNHCR and MMC also expanded their partnership to Morocco and Spain to apply the Mixed Migration Monitoring Mechanism Initiative (4Mi) in those countries in 2024.  



More contributions information on previous years: Funding Update 2021Funding Update 2022