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Somalis Die on Perilous Voyage to Mozambique

The United Nations refugee agency reports nine asylum-seekers drowned off the coast of Mozambique on May 30. The UNHCR, which learned about these deaths this week, says the nine people were part of a larger group of 77 Somalis trying to reach Mozambique by boat, 41 of whom were forced into the water by the smugglers.

The UN refugee agency says among those on board were two women and a 14-year-old boy. It says their husband and father are among the dead.

The UNHCR has sent a team to Mocimboa de Praia in northeastern Mozambique to seek further information. Spokeswoman, Melissa Fleming, says the increasing numbers of Somalis fleeing violence at home by boat appears to be a new trend.

She says this new boat route started in January and since then close to 2,000 Somali men have arrived in Mozambique.

"They used to be taking a very cumbersome route by road through Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and then into South Africa. And, it seems now, perhaps because of crackdowns in Malawi, that they have decided or that the smugglers have chosen this route," she said.

Fleming says most Somalis only stay a few days or weeks in Mozambique before moving on to South Africa, where they believe they will have better opportunities.

"In the larger context, this points to continued deteriorating situation in Somalia where clashes between the Transitional Federal government and African Union peacekeeping force and the armed opposition groups continue to displace thousands of people from their homes in Mogadishu and to kill innocent civilians. Since the beginning of May alone, 30,400 people have been forced to flee their homes in Mogadishu," she said.

The UNHCR says an estimated 200,000 Somalis have been displaced within the country since the beginning of the year. It says more than three million people in Somalia are in urgent need of life saving humanitarian assistance.

But, it notes, humanitarian agencies are finding it increasingly more difficult and dangerous to reach people in need.