Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Asylum Seekers: Deaths in Mozambique highlight perils facing people fleeing Horn of Africa

Ethiopians rest under a tree in Mozambique after walking from the coast on their way south earlier this year

UN - The United Nations refugee agency today highlighted the dangers facing those fleeing the Horn of Africa, noting the recent deaths of eight Ethiopian asylum-seekers who suffocated aboard a closed container truck in Mozambique en route to South Africa.

Police say that the eight who died in the 2 February incident were among a group of 26 young Ethiopian men who were trying to reach South Africa from the Maratane refugee camp in northern Mozambique.

The camp is a stopping point for many on this journey, according to Andrej Mahecic, the spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

The driver of the truck, which was loaded with oil, reportedly only realized that the eight had suffocated when he made a stop at Mocuba, after seven hours of driving from the camp. Three others in the group had to be hospitalized, and have since been discharged.

“The dangers for people fleeing the Horn of Africa northwards across the Gulf of Aden and Red Sea are relatively well known,” Mr. Mahecic told a news conference in Geneva.

According to UNHCR, from January to October 2010, some 43,000 people – 13,000 Somalis and nearly 30,000 Ethiopians – made the dangerous trip across the Red Sea or the Gulf of Aden in flimsy boats. An unknown number perished in the attempt.

“We believe the risks for those heading southwards through East Africa or via Indian Ocean routes are also substantial,” he added, noting that UNHCR received reports last month that eight Somali and three Ethiopian asylum-seekers had drowned off the coast of Mozambique.

UNHCR is working closely with the Mozambique authorities to improve conditions in the Maratane camp, which has become congested under the weight of recent arrivals. According to the agency, 10,985 Somali and Ethiopian asylum-seekers arrived at the camp between January 2010 and January 2011.

It estimates that 2,500 Ethiopians headed towards South Africa from the Maratane camp last year.