UNHCR calls on Mozambique authorities to stop deporting asylum-seekers

Briefing Notes, 24 June 2011

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 24 June 2011, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

Ninety-three asylum seekers were deported to Tanzania in the early hours of Tuesday morning. The group, comprising 59 Somalis and 34 Ethiopians, had recently arrived by boat near Mocimboa da Praia in northern Mozambique. Most were young men but among them was a woman, four children, and three elderly men. Many were suffering medically as a result of their journey.

UNHCR staff who met the group in Mocimboa da Praia during an assistance mission, were unaware that they were to be deported. The asylum-seekers told our staff that they had been part of a group of some 134 people who had been forced into the sea off the Mozambique coast by a crew that was nervous of patrol boats. Four people were said to have drowned. Most of those who made it to shore re-grouped and spent nearly 12 hours crossing dense forest before they were reported by locals to police, who brought them to Mocimboa da Praia. Thirty seven people are unaccounted for, believed lost in the forest.

On the understanding that the 93 were being taken to a site for newly arrived asylum-seekers near Palma town, UNHCR helped organize transportation by police. However, instead of bringing them to the reception site police instead took them away and later deported them. Senior police officials later advised UNHCR that they were under orders to deport all new arrivals.

UNHCR has learned from other asylum-seekers who were brought to the UNHCR-run Maratane refugee camp over the weekend, that Mozambican authorities confiscated their mobile phones as well as their shoes, to deter them from walking back into Mozambique.

These reports were also confirmed by other international humanitarian organizations in Palma as well as by a joint mission of our team with Tanzanian authorities, during interviews with deported asylum-seekers found on the other side of the border in Tanzania. Some of these asylum-seekers said they witnessed or suffered brutality by police and border officials. Some reported that in their previous attempts to cross into Mozambique, they were not deported to official Tanzania border posts but rather left, stripped of clothing and belongings, in deserted islands at the mouth of the Rovuma river between Tanzania and Mozambique.

This is not the first incident of this kind. Last week, UNHCR received reports from staff of another international humanitarian organization about a deportation of 150 individuals on the 16th of June. This has since been confirmed by our colleagues in Tanzania.

UNHCR has written to the Government of Mozambique reminding it of its obligations under the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugee and the 1969 OAU Refugee Convention.

7,450 Somali and Ethiopian asylum-seekers arrived at the Maratane camp between January 2011 and June 2011. Of these, 3,154 are Somalis, while the remaining 4,296 are from Ethiopia. This figure nearly corresponds to total arrivals from both countries during 2010. It is believed that many of them are trying to make their way to South Africa.

As more people flee from the Horn of Africa southwards, including to Mozambique, UNHCR has been working closely with the Mozambique authorities as well as IOM and WFP to establish a screening center in Palma as well as on improving the conditions in Maratane refugee camp in Nampula, which is becoming congested withrecent arrivals.

For further information on this topic, please contact:

  • In Pretoria, South Africa: Tina Ghelli, on mobile +27 82 770 41 89

  • In Geneva: Fatoumata Lejeune-Kaba, on mobile +41 79 249 34 83




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Asylum and Migration

Asylum and Migration

All in the same boat: The challenges of mixed migration around the world.


Numbers are important in the aid business and UNHCR's statisticians monitor them daily.


Advocacy is a key element in UNHCR activities to protect people of concern.


UNHCR advocates fair and efficient procedures for asylum-seekers

Zero-Star "Hotel" that Asylum-Seekers Call Home in Dijon

France is one of the main destinations for asylum-seekers in Europe, with some 55,000 new asylum applications in 2012. As a result of the growing number of applicants, many French cities are facing an acute shortage of accommodation for asylum-seekers.

The government is trying to address the problem and, in February 2013, announced the creation of 4,000 additional places in state-run reception centres for asylum-seekers. But many asylum-seekers are still forced to sleep rough or to occupy empty buildings. One such building, dubbed the "Refugee Hotel" by its transient population, lies on the outskirts of the eastern city of Dijon. It illustrates the critical accommodation situation.

The former meat-packing plant is home to about 100 asylum-seekers, mostly from Chad, Mali and Somalia, but also from Georgia, Kosovo and other Eastern European countries. Most are single men, but there are also two families.

In this dank, rat-infested empty building, the pipes leak and the electricity supply is sporadic. There is only one lavatory, two taps with running water, no bathing facilities and no kitchen. The asylum-seekers sleep in the former cold-storage rooms. The authorities have tried to close the squat several times. These images, taken by British photographer Jason Tanner, show the desperate state of the building and depict the people who call it home.

Zero-Star "Hotel" that Asylum-Seekers Call Home in Dijon

The Faces of Asylum

Everyone has a right to be treated humanely and with dignity. But asylum-seekers can sometimes be detained for years, forced to exist on the edge of society and struggle for their right to protection, while in some cases suffering human rights abuses. Their temporary new homes - a long way from the ones they left behind - can be sports halls, churches, closed centres, makeshift shelters or simply the street. Lives are put on hold while people wait in the hope of receiving refugee status.

Although it is the legitimate right of any government to secure its borders and prevent irregular immigration, it is important that anyone seeking asylum in a country have access to it. According to international law, states are obliged to provide protection to those in need, and must not return a person to a place where their life or freedom is threatened.

This photo set looks at the faces of people seeking asylum in industrialized countries - the real people behind the numbers, crossing land borders and oceans in search of safety, work or just a better life.

The Faces of Asylum

Beyond the Border

In 2010, the Turkish border with Greece became the main entry point for people attempting by irregular methods to reach member states of the European Union, with over 132,000 arrivals. While some entered as migrants with the simple wish of finding a better life, a significant number fled violence or persecution in countries such as Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iraq and Somalia. The journey is perilous, with many reports of drowning when people board flimsy vessels and try to cross the Mediterranean Sea or the River Evros on the border between Greece and Turkey. The many deficiencies in the Greek asylum system are exacerbated by the pressure of tens of thousands of people awaiting asylum hearings. Reception facilities for new arrivals, including asylum-seekers, are woefully inadequate. Last year, UNHCR visited a number of overcrowded facilities where children, men and women were detained in cramped rooms with insufficient facilities. UNHCR is working with the Greek government to improve its asylum system and has called upon other European states to offer support.

Beyond the Border

Christmas tree a gift of love for refugees in GreecePlay video

Christmas tree a gift of love for refugees in Greece

For children spending Christmas at the Idomeni refugee reception centre in northern Greece, Congolese asylum seeker Michel Kamusha has "a gift of love." Drawing on his skills as an artist he decorates a Christmas with tree with socks, toys, shoes and clothes to give the youngsters "hope for Christmas."
Greece: Ramping up refugee receptionPlay video

Greece: Ramping up refugee reception

UNHCR staff are working with Government authorities, NGOs and volunteers on the beaches of the Greek island of Lesvos to receive cold, wet and fearful asylum seekers making landfall around the clock. They wrap them in thermal blankets and take them to warm, safe emergency accommodation at transit sites, with power and Wi-Fi connectivity.
The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia: Refugees Onward JourneyPlay video

The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia: Refugees Onward Journey

A transit centre at Vinojug, on FYR Macedonia's border with Greece is where the refugees and migrants pass through on their journey further into Europe. Here UNHCR and partner organisations provide food, water, medical care, psycho-social support and information for refugees who take the train towards the border with Serbia. UNHCR also provides information on how to access the asylum system in the country. In recent weeks, an average of 6,300 refugees pass through the camp every day, yesterday that number grew to 10,000, a record.