Home | News    Thursday 25 September 2008

21 Eritrean, Somali refugees feared dead in Sudan river crossing

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September 24, 2008 (KHARTOUM) — The United Nations refugee agency said twenty-one refugees are feared dead after their overloaded boat capsized during a smuggling incident in eastern Sudan.

Among the missing were 11 Eritrean and Somali families, including eight women at least three children, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said Wednesday.

The refugees were part of a larger group that tried at 01:30 local time to cross the Atbara River – which is near the Shagarab refugee camp in eastern Sudan – in four boats. One of the four boats, which are meant to carry a maximum of 15 people, was packed with 26 and capsized several hundred kilometers from shore.

The bodies have yet to be recovered.

Local administration and security officials, along with UNHCR and its Sudanese government counterpart, COR, rushed to the scene.

One of the male survivors said he was trying to reach the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, in search of work. He and several others were offered the trip across the river and onward to Khartoum by road for a fee of about US $100 each.

Two suspected smugglers, also refugees, are now in police custody.

The agency said that the boat crossing was meant to bypass road blocks out of the camp, since refugees are required by government regulations to remain in camps. However, poor living conditions and lack of prospects force some, including women and children, to make perilous journeys – often aided by smugglers – in search of a better life in Khartoum or a European destination.

UNHCR estimates the number of refugees in eastern Sudan to be around 130,000. They originate mostly from Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Somalia. Close to 100,000 live in 12 camps where they receive international assistance while an estimated 40,000 live in rural and urban concentrations.

(ST)

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