UNHCR dismayed at death of Somali asylum seekers off Mozambique coast

Briefing Notes, 11 June 2010

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 11 June 2010, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR was saddened to learn this week of the deaths of nine Somali asylum-seekers off the coast of Mozambique on May 30th. They were part of a larger group of 77 Somali nationals trying to reach Mozambique by boat, and 41 of whom were forced into the water. Among those on board were two women and a 14-year-old boy. Their husband and father was among the dead.

The incident occurred between Palma and Mocimboa da Praia, off the coast of Cabo Del Gado province in northeastern Mozambique. Some people were rescued by fishermen while 36 others who refused to leave the boat were eventually taken to Palma. UNHCR commends the actions of the fishermen and local authorities in saving lives.

UNHCR has sent a team to Mocimboa da Praia to seek further information. We are seeing increasing numbers of Somalis fleeing violence at home by sea. Since January of this year, close to 2,000 Somali men have arrived by boat in northeastern Mozambique. Most report having traveled directly from Mogadishu and Kismayo, with many claiming that they fled to escape forced recruitment by Al Shabaab militants. Others took to sea from Mombassa, Kenya, along with a few Ethiopians.

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 opportunities. Only 300 of the Somalis who arrived this year remain in the Maratane refugee camp.

UNHCR has been working with government officials in Mozambique to deal with the new arrivals of Somalis by sea. UNHCR is providing logistical and technical support to local authorities in Cabo Del Gado province to assist in receiving and relocating asylum-seekers to Maratane camp.

There are some 7,700 refugees and asylum-seekers in Mozambique, including 4,800 in Maratane refugee camp. Most are from Burundi, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Meanwhile, in Somalia the clashes between the Transitional Federal Government troops supported by the African Union Peace keeping force and armed opposition groups continue to displace thousands of people from their homes in Mogadishu and to kill innocent civilians.

Since the beginning of May 2010, 30,400 people have been forced to leave their homes in Mogadishu, 17,300 of them managed to flee from the capital, mainly finding refuge in the overcrowded settlements in the Afgooye corridor, already home to 366,000 displaced Somalis. An estimated 200,000 Somalis have been displaced within the country since the beginning of the year.

The overall humanitarian situation in Somalia is deteriorating. More than 3 million people are in urgent need of life saving humanitarian assistance. Access of humanitarian agencies to the population in need is becoming increasingly difficult and challenging.

Over 580,000 Somalis live as refugees in countries neighbouring Somalia, of whom almost 40,000 fled their home country since the beginning of 2010.