Sole survivor tells of tragic incident off #Libya’s coast, 55 lives lost


A year and a few months after the “left-to-die boat” case lead to international indignation, another dramatically similar incident reveals how, despite the changed geopolitical situation, migrants keep dying in the Mediterranean sea in appalling conditions.
Last year, in March 2011, 63 people who had left Tripoli in the attempt to reach the Southern shores of Italy, died after drifting for 14 days at sea. This incident occurred during the international military intervention in Libya and as such in meticulously surveyed waters. Several damning reports were released on the failures of a series of actors and a legal case was filed in France for non-assistance. Now, despite the fall of the Gaddafi regime and the end of the international intervention in Libya, Boats4People has learned during an interview conducted this morning in Zarzis, Southern Tunisia, about another tragic case that shows once again the dramatic effects of the European migration regime.
Abbas, an Eritrean national who is the only survivor of this incident, was found on Tuesday at 14:30 by a Tunisian fisherman 35 miles off the coasts of Zarzis. He was hanging onto the remains of the rubber dinghy with which he had left Tripoli around 14 days earlier with 56 people on board (20 Somalians, 2 Sudanese and 34 Eritreans), among which his older brother and two sisters. After approximately 26 hours of navigation, the boat, which was in very bad conditions, capsized and only Abbas managed to hold onto the boat, whose engine was nevertheless damaged after falling into the water. He drifted alone for fourteen days in the open sea, occasionally sighting in the distance other vessels. After finally rescued by a Tunisian fisherman yesterday, a patrol boat of the Tunisian “Garde National Maritime” was sent out and took him onboard at 15:30. He was brought to the hospital in Zarzis, where he received treatment for dehydration and extreme exhaustion.
Boats4People denounces once again the policy of border closure that oblige migrants to resort to dangerous means to cross the Mediterranean as well as the criminalization of assistance to migrants in distress at sea, which have de facto transformed the Mediterranean in a cemetery.
In collaboration with researchers of the Forensic Oceanography project at Goldsmiths College, Boats4People will keep inquiring to determine if any measure could have been taken to avert the tragic fate of the passengers of this boat.
Boats 4 People says a video of the interview will soon be made available, and offers more information on the incident, via near-real-time mapping platform WatchTheMed:


Thousands still flee #Somalia every month


 A year after troubled Somalia was ravaged by the worst drought in decades, no end seems in sight to more than two decades of suffering and Somalis continue to flee their country to escape conflict, human rights abuses and adverse weather conditions.

In the first four months of this year, some 20,000 Somalis sought refuge in neighbouring Kenya, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Yemen. Although the levels are lower, they are significant. On average 40,000 Somalis fled their homeland each month between June and September of 2011.

In May, the Dollo Ado camps in eastern Ethiopia, which were already hosting more than 150,000 refugees, saw a significant increase in new arrivals, from less than 980 in the first half of May to more than 2,000 in the second half.

The newcomers say they are fleeing increased physical insecurity and dwindling food resources. Specifically, they cite fear of being caught in military operations, forced recruitment, poor rains and crop destruction by caterpillars as reasons for leaving Somalia. “We are working with the Ethiopian authorities to identify a site for a sixth camp in this already crowded and environmentally fragile area,” Andrej Mahecic, a UNHCR spokesman, said in Geneva.

Meanwhile, at Dadaab in north-east Kenya, more than 460,000 refugees continue to live in a precarious security environment. The threat of improvised explosive devices, shootings, kidnapping and banditry remains high. Deliveries of assistance and activities in the camps are continuing regardless.

Mahecic explained that the priority and toughest challenge for UNHCR and its partners throughout the past year has been to reduce the unprecedented mortality and malnutrition rates among Somali arrivals.

“Despite life-saving medical care and therapeutic feeding programmes in the Dadaab and Dollo Ado refugee camps, many of the newly arriving children have been beyond help – dying within hours or days of arrival. At the peak of the influx last summer, the estimated death toll was as high as 17 deaths per 10,000 people every day,” he noted.

At the onset of last year’s crisis, UNHCR and its partners set up critical nutrition programmes in reception and transit centres and in the camps. “Combined with mass vaccinations and other public health measures, these massive efforts saved lives over the past 12 months,” Mahecic said. “Mortality and malnutrition rates began to drop from record highs in September last year, but it took another six months before they fell below the levels usually seen in an emergency – less than one per 10,000 per day,” he added.

Today, Ethiopia’s Dollo Ado camps are reporting an average crude mortality rate of 0.8 per 1,000 per month and an under-five mortality rate of 2.2 per 1,000 per month. In Kenya’s Dadaab refugee complex the crude mortality rate is 0.2 per 1,000 per month, and 0.6 per 1,000 per month for children under five years of age.

“Another vital achievement has been the reduction in the high malnutrition rates, unseen in decades,” Mahecic said. Malnutrition was especially alarming among refugee children – in June and July last year, more than half of Somali children arriving in Ethiopia were acutely malnourished. That rate was somewhat lower among those arriving in Kenya, but equally disturbing – between 30 and 40 per cent.

Mahecic said the results of the most recent mass screenings show a sharp reduction of malnutrition among under fives in Dadaab (seven per cent). In Dollo Ado, the malnutrition levels among children also stabilized with all camps showing a positive trend. In the older Melkadida and Bokolomayo camps, acute malnutrition rates have fallen to 15 per cent. UNHCR is currently preparing a follow-up survey in the newer Kobe and Hilaweyn camps and expects to see significantly reduced levels of general acute malnutrition.

Massive water, sanitation and hygiene programmes went hand-in-hand with these efforts and were integral to the vast improvements in the health conditions of the Somali refugee population.

Meanwhile, neighbouring countries have been bearing the brunt of the Somali displacement and they continue to need international support. Some 300,000 people fled Somalia last year alone. Today, more than 980,000 Somalis live as refugees in Kenya, Ethiopia, Yemen and Djibouti.


#Somalia Gov Warning to Spoilers Bent on Disrupting Peace Process


Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali of the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia (AP file photo)

Transitional Federal Government Spokesman Abdirahman Omar Osman told journalists in Mogadishu on Tuesday that the current administration was ready to end the current transition form of administration into a fully functional unity government.The government in Somalia has sounded an unequivocal warning to “spoilers” bent on disrupting the country’s peace process and derail what it called the “swift sailing” of the current transition period.

“Both the Somali government and the international community are clear on this issue. The current transitional period must end in August 2012 and any person seen going contrary to this will be added to the list of spoilers and will face local and international sanctions” the TFG Spokesman said.

The roadmap was the construct of a political agreement between several established political stakeholders in Somalia that seek a consensus among the Transitional Federal Government (TFG), regional administrations, civil society members, moderate religious groups, traditional leaders and business community with observers from the international community.

African Union, United Nations and IGAD has on Tuesday threatened individuals or groups in and out of Somalia trying to jeopardize the roadmap for ending the transition.

The United Nations, the African Union and IGAD jointly issued an unequivocal warning to all potential spoilers and non-compliance of the roadmap saying that such individuals or groups will be referred to the IGAD Council of Ministers for the immediate imposition of measures and restrictions.

In a press release, the three bodies said requests for further sanctions against spoilers may simultaneously be referred to the United Nations Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea in order to open an investigation under the terms of UN Security Council resolution 1844 of 2008, adding that they will be taking concrete action in the coming weeks.

They said they will take measures against those who seek to prevent or block a peaceful political process, who threaten the Transitional Federal Institutions (TFls) of Somalia by force, or whoever takes action that undermines stability in Somalia or the region.

They said they are moving closer to key benchmarks, such as the convening of the Constituent Assembly, adoption of a new Federal provisional Constitution, selection of a new Parliament, and remain greatly concerned that the roadmap continues to be jeopardized by the actions of individuals and groups in and out of Somalia working to undermine the fragile progress they have collectively made in recent months.

“This communication should act as both a warning and a final opportunity for those standing against peace and progress in Somalia to cease their actions against the process” read a part of the statement.

Source African Press Agency

News and Comments 4 Feb 2012


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More to Somalia than pirates, famine and al-Shabab

English: Statue of Sayyid Mohammed Abdullah Ha...

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The next book in the African Arguments series is Getting Somalia Wrong by BBC journalist Mary Harper. It is a complex account of a country too often stereotyped by one or two of its most notorious characteristics – recently these being the Islamist insurgency of Al-Shabaab, piracy off its Indian Ocean coast and terrible famine.

Harper’s book has grown out of 20 years working on and in the country, and functions not as a conventional history of Somalia, but rather as a discussion of several key themes central to its present state. Pleasantly surprising was the thread of black humour that runs throughout, created by the description of several historical events that exemplify an admirable, and slightly crazed, Somali independence of spirit. First is the story of the ‘Mad Mullah’ – warrior poet Seyyid Mohamed Abdulle Hassan – who fought the British to a standstill in the early 20th century and described himself as ‘a stubborn he-camel’ from whom the British would get ‘war and nothing else.’ When his troops killed a British commander sent to pursue him, he penned ‘a brutal celebratory poem’ detailing how his dead body would be ‘left to the carrion eaters.’

In a neat historical parallel, eighty years later, warlord General Mohamed Farah Aideed had a $20,000 bounty placed on his head by Admiral Jonathan Howe – commander of the US ‘humanitarian’ mission Restore Hope. Aideed responded by promising to pay $20,000 to anyone who brought him the actual head of Admiral Howe. Whilst such violent reactions might seem anathema to us, they underscore a fundamental self-confidence that Harper clearly respects. Long-time scholar of Somalia, Ioan Lewis, puts it another way – Somalis have ‘an open contempt for other people.’

What Harper is trying to do is to resurrect a basic level of respect in discussions about Somalia. From its portrayal as a lawless place, riven with fundamentalist Islam, and latterly suffering the effects of a terrible famine, she argues that these aren’t the only things that happen in the country. Her real interest, I think, was in profiling modern-day Somalia where ‘more than two decades of conflict and crisis have forced Somalis to invent alternative political and economic systems.’ These innovations in the economy, the livestock trade, money transfers and telecommunications reveal something that will be new to many readers – successful Somalis making money. She also clearly admires the political developments in Somaliland – the northern territory that seceded from the Somalia after the collapse of the country’s central government in 1991. Still unrecognised by the international community, Somaliland has slowly developed its own hybrid democratic system with some traditional structures still in place, and is generally peaceful and heading in the right direction.

In conversation Harper refers to Somalia as being “like a complex mathematical equation” – the moving parts being the country’s bewildering clan system, and although some Somalis reportedly deny its modern-day importance, Harper “would take any Somali on who said the clan system was not relevant.” Whilst clans were suppressed under Siad Barre’s pseudo-socialist regime, and their resurgence in the 1990s is sometimes seen as the cause of the civil war, they remain the shifting bedrock upon which Somali society is built. I ask what she thinks defeat of the Islamist group Al-Shabaab would do for the country. The answer is perhaps surprising – far from ending the violence, Harper predicts that Somalia might, at least initially, take a step backwards, as the more ingrained divisions would resurface and regional clan-based groups take up arms again against each other. Whilst she deals harshly with the violent and reactionary Islam of Al-Shabaab, she states that their presence has softened the influence of the clan in Somalia. Whilst this has been achieved “largely through fear,” she also argues that there might be some things to learn from this about the way Somali society works.

This desire to develop a new ‘take’ on almost all facets of Somalia’s poorly reported public profile is nowhere more in evidence than in her chapter on the pirates. Harper is blunt in her statements to me that Somali pirates are “common criminals”, and does not accept the fashionable counter-narrative that they are coastguards or fishermen driven to piracy through foreign exploitation of their fishing grounds. She seeks to write about Somalia’s most notorious product “on their own terms”, and includes several interviews with people who have been pirates. Piracy is clearly a profitable business, and is a product of both the Somali entrepreneurial élan, and the lack of economic opportunities on land due to chronic political instability, banal as this explanation may sound.

Harper evidently has a love and fascination for Somali people. She tells me that “Somalis give me massive freedom as both a journalist and human being.” Whilst she inhabits a position somewhat elevated from the average Somali women, whose opportunities are limited in what is a conservative, male-dominated society; she doesn’t recognise the real bitterness against this culture characterised in the writings of Ayan Hirsi Ali, and a string of western commentators on the ‘Islamic world’.

In this, and many other topics, Harper isn’t necessarily positive about the country’s future, and is wary of making fashionable predictions, she is however keen to show that not everything about the place is broken.

Magnus Taylor is Managing Editor, African Argumeents Online.

Getting Somalia Wrong is being launched by the Royal African Society at SOAS on the evening of 7th February – click here for more information.

Getting Somalia Wrong: faith, war and hope in a shattered state – By Magnus Taylor | African Arguments.