Six people confirmed dead, more missing after small boat capsizes off Mayotte – UN

A boat carrying asylum seekers and migrants in the Mediterranean Sea. Photo: UNHCR/L.Boldrini

9 October 2012 – Six people died and 10 are still missing after a small vessel carrying 24 people capsized on Monday morning off the French territory of Mayotte in the Indian Ocean, the United Nations refugee agency reported today.

“The capsizing is a reminder of the risks faced by people desperate to escape poverty, conflict and persecution,” Adrian Edwards, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told reporters in Geneva.

“As in the Mediterranean and the Gulf of Aden, the seas around Mayotte are the scene of irregular movements of migrants and refugees searching for a better life or protection from persecution and war.”

This is the second such tragedy in a month, bringing to 69 the number of people reported dead or missing after incidents off Mayotte this year.

For decades, people have been using small open vessels known as “kwassa-kwassa” to sail from the Comoros to the more prosperous French territory of Mayotte, according to UNHCR. Most of these movements take place without the requisite documentation and involve considerable risk to those attempting them. Asylum-seekers account for a small proportion of these movements but their numbers have been increasing in the last two years, Mr. Edwards said.

UNHCR said that last year there were some 1,200 applications for asylum in Mayotte, 41 per cent more than in 2010. The largest proportion of applicants – about 90 per cent – came from the Comoros, with citizens from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Madagascar, Rwanda and Burundi, accounting for the rest.


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