UN voices dismay at deaths of Somali asylumseekers off Mozambican coast

11 June 2010The United Nations refugee agency expressed sadness today after learning of the deaths of nine Somali asylum-seekers who drowned while attempting to reach Mozambique, an increasingly popular route for Somalis trying to flee the violence and suffering in their homeland. The nine Somalis were part of a larger group of 77 attempting to reach Mozambique by boat when they were forced – apparently by crew members – into the sea on 30 May, according to Melissa Fleming, a spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).“Some people were rescued by fishermen while 36 others who refused to leave the boat were eventually taken to [the town of] Palma,” Ms. Fleming said, commending the fishermen and local authorities for saving lives.UNHCR has dispatched a team of officials to Mozambique to find out more about what happened in the latest incident, as Ms. Fleming reported that nearly 2,000 Somali men are estimated to have reached north-eastern Mozambique by boat since the start of the year.“Most report having travelled directly from Mogadishu and Kismayo, with many claiming that they fled to escape forced recruitment by al-Shabaab militants,” the spokesperson said, referring to the Islamist group fighting Government forces in Somalia, which has not had a functioning national government in two decades.Some of the Somalis – as well as a small number of Ethiopians – had already travelled to Mombasa, Kenya, before attempting to reach Mozambique by sea.“Most Somalis only stay a few days or weeks at Maratane refugee camp in northeast Mozambique before attempting to move on to South Africa, where they believe they will have better opportunity,” Ms. Fleming noted.Maratane is home to about 7,700 refugees and asylum-seekers, but most of its population hails from Burundi, Rwanda or the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).UNHCR said it is working with Government officials across Mozambique to deal with the upsurge in arrivals by sea from Somalia, providing logistical and technical support to help relocate the asylum-seekers.Violence continues to engulf Somalia, particularly its southern and central regions, and UNHCR estimates that almost 40,000 people have fled the country since the start of the year. Already more than 580,000 Somalis live as refugees in neighbouring countries and at least 1.4 million others are internally displaced. read more

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