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20 Refugees Feared Dead In Sudan River Crossing

Over 20 Refugees Feared Dead In Sudan River Crossing – UN Agency

New York, Sep 24 2008 4:10PM

Twenty-one refugees are feared dead after their overloaded boat capsized during a smuggling incident in eastern Sudan, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said today.

Among those missing, according to eyewitnesses, are 11 Eritrean and Somali families, including eight women and at least three children. They were part of a larger group that tried 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 kilometres from shore.

Four Eritrean men survived by swimming to shore, along with one Somali woman who clung to a floating log. One of the men said he was travelling to Khartoum in search of work, and he and several others were offered the trip across the river and onward to the capital by road for a fee of $100 each.

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

“Last night’s tragic incident highlights the plight of refugees in eastern Sudan and the inherent risks of smuggling people,” UNHCR said in a news release.

The agency noted that the boat crossing was meant to bypass road blocks out of the camp, since refugees are required by government laws to remain in camps and receive assistance there. However, poor living conditions and lack of prospects force some, including women and children, to make dangerous journeys – often aided by smugglers in search of a better life.

Eastern Sudan is home to an estimated 130,000 refugees, most of them from Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia, according to UNHCR. Close to 100,000 of them live in 12 camps where they receive international assistance.

ENDS

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