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Six drown offshore French territory Mayotte in Indian Ocean

October 9, 2012 |  1:49 pm

At least six people drowned after a small boat capsized Monday near the French territory of Mayotte, which lies between Mozambique and Madagascar, the United Nations refugee agency said Tuesday. Ten people were missing.

The deadly sinking is the second such incident in a month, according to the U.N., bringing the number of dead or missing off the Indian Ocean shores of Mayotte to at least 69 this year.

In a brief statement posted online Tuesday, the U.N. refugee agency did not identify where the two dozen people on board the stricken boat were from. But it tied the sinking to the long-standing pattern of people using tiny boats known as kwassa-kwassa to sail from the island nation of Comoros to Mayotte, a wealthier territory that has become a destination for impoverished migrants and refugees.

Asylum applications to Mayotte jumped by  41% from 2010 to 2011, with the vast majority of the roughly 1,200 asylum-seekers coming from nearby Comoros. Last year, Mayotte sent about 20,000 back to Comoros and Madagascar, the U.N. said.

Speaking from Paris, U.N. refugee agency spokesman William Spindler told  Voice of America that France had spent nearly 80 million euros, or about $100 million, sending people back from Mayotte last year, compared with 1 million euros spent on development aid to Comoros.

"We see a disproportion here between this repressive policy of simply sending people back and not really investing in the long-term development of countries such as the Comoros," Spindler told the broadcasting service.

Comoros is one of the poorest nations in the world, with a history riddled with coups and instability. New data from the Food and Agriculture Organization show that 70% of Comoros residents are undernourished, a rate that has soared even as global hunger rates have dropped. The archipelago nation is also especially vulnerable to climate change, suffering devastating floods this year that it ties to the global trend.


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-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles