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Jason Dzubow on Political Asylum

Ethiopian Asylum Seekers Die Along the Smuggling Route

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I've written a number of times about the route East African asylum seekers take to reach the United States.  The journey usually takes them through Africa to South Africa, and then to South America, Central America, and finally the U.S.  Along the way, the asylum seekers are passed from one smuggler to the next.  Because I deal with the people who make it here, I don't usually think about those who do not survive the trip.


Voice of America reports that on February 2, eight Ethiopian asylum seekers suffocated to death in a closed container truck while attempting to reach South Africa:


The UN refugee agency [UNHCR] said the Ethiopian asylum seekers had been living in the Maratane refugee camp in northern Mozambique, from where they embarked on their ill-fated journey.  The driver of the truck in which they were traveling reportedly only realized the eight had suffocated when he made a stop at Mocuba, after seven hours of driving from the camp.


Statistics on asylum seeker deaths are hard to come by, so the magnitude of the problem is not well known, but I'd venture to guess that the number of deaths is quite high.  I sometimes hear anecdotal evidence from my clients about this problem.  For example, an Eritrean client recently told me about two Eritrean women who drowned while crossing a swamp in Panama.  I could not find statistics for asylum seekers coming to the U.S., but I did find some information about Britain and Australia:


The New Statesman report that 77 asylum seekers died in Great Britain during the last four years: Of the deaths, more than a third (28) were suicides following rejected asylum claims. Seven people died after being denied healthcare for "preventable medical problems." Seven more died in police custody, while 15 lost their lives during "highly risky" attempts to enter the country. Seven were killed in racist street attacks, four after deportation to a country where they feared for their safety, two as a result of destitution, and four because they had been forced into dangerous work in the black economy. 


A website called Abolish Foreignness reports that between 2000 and 2010, 1,053 asylum seekers died in Australia or en route to that country.  The majority of the deaths were from people drowned at sea.


It is probably impossible to know how many asylum seekers die on the long and dangerous journey to the United States.  But it is clear that, despite the risk, many people are willing to make the trip.


Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.

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