News / Africa

Boat Tragedy Claims 6 Lives Off Mayotte Coast

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Comoros Islands
Comoros Islands

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Kim Lewis
A second boat accident in the Indian Ocean in the span of four weeks has claimed the lives of six people.  The United Nations Refugee Agency, UNHCR, said a group of 24 people were traveling from the Comoros to the French territory of Mayotte when the boat in which they were riding capsized in the early morning hours of Monday,  October 8. 

The agency said this is the second capsizing in a month, and brings the number of people reported dead or missing off the coast of Mayotte to 69 so far this year.

“The boat capsized just a few meters away from land, and six people drowned, and their bodies have been found.  Eight people were rescued, and the rest are still missing.  They are feared dead.  On the eighth of September, a similar incident happened in the waters between Comoros and Mayotte.  Six people died and 27 are still missing, and earlier in May another incident occurred in the same location,” said William Spindler, a UNHCR spokesperson in Paris.

Spindler said people endure the dangerous journey across the Indian Ocean in search of greater opportunities, and the number of migrants and asylum seekers continues to grow.

As recent history of the country shows, Comoros has endured years of unrest and numerous coups.  The World Bank estimated a population increase from 2000-2009 at an average annual rate of 2.2 percent, and the gross domestic product, GDP, per head increase of an average of 0.9 percent on the three independent islands.

Spindler said while the vast majority of migrants come from the Comoros islands, the UNHCR is seeing refugees coming from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Burundi, to name a few countries.

“The vast majority of people are looking for a better life.  They are escaping poverty in the Comoros islands, Madagascar, or other places.  But some of them are also fleeing war and persecution at home,” said Spindler.

Spindler said the decision to travel by a vessel that is not made for the wide expanse of an ocean is a desperate one for those seeking a brighter future.  He said Mayotte is a part of France and is more affluent.  It offers better opportunities to find work.  However, Spindler said countries should look at alternative solutions, such as increasing development aid to the Comoros, instead of spending millions to send the migrants back home.

To hear the entire interview with William Spindler, click on audio.

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