These are not good times for millions of Ethiopians and Somalis. With an armed conflict lasting more than 20 years in the Horn of Africa, and with the famine sparked by the last drought, their situation has become unbearable. Many women, children and men have no more option than fleeing their countries looking for aid and a future.
It is unclear if aid can be found in greater or lesser quantity and quality in the overcrowded camps of Kenya and south Ethiopia. But what takes thousands of Ethiopians and Somalis far beyond their borders is the search for new destinations. The Republic of South Africa has been traditionally one of those favourite destinations, but in the last few months the route towards “El Dorado” includes a deadly trap at the border between Tanzania and Mozambique.
The League for Human Rights in Mozambique (LDH in Portuguese) has publically launched a report detailing the human rights violations of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants entering Mozambique nearby the border with Tanzania, the great majority of which arriving by sea.
Mozambique has traditionally been an entry point to South Africa, used by Ethiopians, Somalis and other nationalities. It is also home to thousands of refugees from the Great Lakes region. They found asylum in Mozambique since the middle of the 90s, when the latter started to recover from the civil war affecting the country after its independence in 1975. Mozambique is also signatory of the continental and international protocols and treaties protecting refugees. Its legislation takes a moderate stance towards migrants with an irregular administrative situation in the country. Lately, however, something has changed.
In the first half of 2011, according to the LDH report, about 8000 Somalis and Ethiopians entered Mozambique, overwhelming the country’s response capacity. Mozambique then called for support from international organizations. The great majority of these 8000 people, after receiving emergency aid, continued their way- probably towards the Republic of South Africa. This was the common practice during recent years, although never with such big numbers. Yet, during the last few months, no new Somalis or Ethiopians have passed through Mozambique anymore.
According to the LDH report, since May 2011, Somalis and Ethiopians are being detained and thrown out Mozambique by the authorities of this country without respecting the national and international protocols protecting refugees, asylum seekers and migrants. Moreover, the report details brutal police practices, forcing local fishermen to take the detainees to no-man’s land, where they are abandoned to their fate. Many of them have died because of the rising tide of the sea, being at the mercy of the wild animals, or of hunger and thirst. The report strongly denounces this situation in which men- making up the vast majority- but also women and children are being virtually assassinated by the Mozambican authorities.
UNCHR already denounced the irregularities in a press release on June 24th 2011, calling the Government of Mozambique to stop the detentions and the police’s brutality, and reminding their obligations as signatory of the refugees’ conventions. The Government of Mozambique replied nothing had changed in the national policy and promised to investigate the situation. Little credit was given to this answer: Mozambique has a strong central government whose orders are followed, and it is hard to imagine that the practices referred to are not following a new national and regional strategy. The Republic of South Africa is now putting significant pressure on its neighbouring countries to stop the migrants before reaching its large border. Besides, the shadow of suspicion about Somalis being pirates or terrorists adds more pressure from countries concerned about that particular kind of threat.
The LDH report reveals facts that cannot be ignored by Mozambican society and the international community. The migrations will continue to happen while Ethiopians and Somalis do not have access to a decent life. The weather conditions will be better for travelling by sea in a couple of months time. There will probably be a new wave of migrants testing once again the Government of Mozambique, and neither Mozambican society nor the international community should let a country- which had an exemplary track record with regards to refugees and migrants until a few months ago- continue acting outside of the law.