Boat tragedy off Mayotte - confirmed deaths, missing

Briefing Notes, 9 October 2012

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 9 October 2012, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

Six people are confirmed drowned and ten are still missing after a small vessel carrying 24 people capsized in the early hours of Monday off the French territory of Mayotte in the Indian Ocean. This is the second such tragedy in a month. It brings to 69 the number of people reported dead or missing in such incidents off Mayotte so far this year.

The capsizing is a reminder of the risks faced by people desperate to escape poverty, conflict and persecution. 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.

For decades, people have been using small open vessels known as "kwassa-kwassa" to sail from the Union of the Comoros to the more prosperous French territory of Mayotte. 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.

Last year, there were some 1200 applications for asylum in Mayotte, 41 per cent more than in 2010. The largest proportion of applicants came from the Union of the Comoros (90 per cent), with citizens from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Madagascar, Rwanda and Burundi, accounting for the rest.

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