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Eight asylum-seekers suffocate in Mozambique en route to South Africa

Briefing notes

Eight asylum-seekers suffocate in Mozambique en route to South Africa

8 February 2011

Over the weekend, UNHCR learned of the deaths by suffocation on 2 February of eight Ethiopian asylum-seekers aboard a closed container truck in Mozambique. Police say the eight 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 truck driver reportedly only realized that the eight had suffocated when he made a stop at Mocuba, after seven hours of driving from the camp. The truck was also loaded with oil. Three others in the group had to be hospitalized. They 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. We believe the risks for those heading southwards through East Africa or via Indian Ocean routes are also substantial. In January, UNHCR received reports that eight Somali and three Ethiopian asylum-seekers had drowned off the coast of Mozambique. In May, last year, nine Somalis also drowned off Mozambique in the search for safety.

Mozambique's Maratane camp is a stopping point for many on this journey. 10,985 Somali and Ethiopian asylum-seekers arrived at the camp between January 2010 and January 2011. Of these 6,660 are Somalis, while the remaining 4,325 are from Ethiopia. We estimate that 2,500 Ethiopians headed towards South Africa from the Maratane camp last year.

As more people flee from the Horn of Africa to 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.