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Thursday, April 14, 2005

BBC NEWS | Africa | Refugees trek to escape Somalia

BBC NEWS | Africa | Refugees trek to escape Somalia: Refugees trek to escape Somalia
By Raphael Tenthani
BBC, Malawi

A group of Somali asylum seekers has arrived in Malawi after walking more than 2,000 kilometres.

The 42 men said their trek had taken two-and-a-half months and they were refused refugee status in Tanzania and Mozambique en route.

A Malawian official told the BBC the men were emaciated and dehydrated when they were spotted by villagers after crossing the border from Mozambique.

The refugees said they were fleeing from the conflict in Somalia.

They said they were unaware of the peace efforts undertaken in recent months.

A government has been named in neighbouring Kenya, although it has not set up in Somalia because it is too dangerous.


The men said they had struggled to get enough water, food, or rest during their walk.

"We were refused asylum in Tanzania and Mozambique," the group's spokesman, Said Hassan, told officials in the southern Malawian district of Phalombe in halting English.

They fled Somalia for fear of being recruited into one of the militias which have controlled and fought for the country in the 14 years since there was last a functioning national government.

Phalombe District Commissioner Khumbo Chongwe told BBC News they were spotted by local villagers near the border with Mozambique.

"They looked tired and emaciated and in dire need of food, water and sleep," he said.

The group of men are between about 20 and 40 years old and are now being looked after in a local school and fed well.

They are to be transferred to Luwani refugee camp on Thursday after a football game is organised between them and some locals.

"We want to show them they are welcome in the Warm Heart of Africa," Mr Chongwe said.

The United Nations refugee agency, the UNHCR, says there are about 16, 000 refugees in Malawi - mainly from Sudan, Somalia and Rwanda.


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