Karonga — It remains uncertain how many migrants perished when their boat capsized in Lake Malawi, including the number of passengers on the boat and their nationalities.
But a Xinhua report quoting local media said Malawi police in Karonga on Wednesday recovered 48 bodies out of 60 Somalis and Ethiopians who drowned in Lake Malawi.
In another refugee boat disaster off Australia's Christmas Island on Thursday, fears grew yesterday that the death toll from could soar, as ships and aircraft scouring the seas for the dozens still missing found only more bodies.
So far 109 people had been rescued, a figure authorities revised down from 110, and three were confirmed dead after the vessel, which was believed to be carrying around 200 asylum-seekers, capsized in the Indian Ocean.
With more than 80 people unaccounted for Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare said the prospect of finding anyone else alive was looking "increasingly grim".
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees spokesperson Adrian Edwards said in a statement yesterday that "it was with sadness that UNHCR learned yesterday (Thursday) of the drownings.
"The exact number of deaths has not been determined. According to the reports we received, villagers around the lake found a dead body on Monday and buried it. On Tuesday another corpse was floating on the lake and the villagers also buried it. On Wednesday several bodies were seen floating on Lake Malawi and the police became involved and picked them up. The bodies were decomposed and were buried immediately.
"Six migrants survived the ordeal and are being interviewed by police at Karonga. The boat apparently left Tanzania on Sunday. The government of Malawi has arrested three Malawians on suspicion that they facilitated the movement of the group, in collaboration with fellow Tanzanians.
"UNHCR has been seeing increased use of boats among migrants and asylum seekers travelling southwards from the Horn of Africa since January 2010 when a group of 106 Somalis arrived in the Cabo Delgado coast of Mozambique.
"The numbers arriving in Mozambique increased through 2010 and 2011, but have since decreased following efforts by the Mozambican authorities to step up patrols along their borders. In 2011, UNHCR had reports of 73 people who died or went missing during the perilous journey. This week's capsizing is the first incident reported in 2012. That people are willing to risk their lives on this journey underscores the desperation of those involved.
"In 2011, there has been an increase in the number of asylum-seekers from the Horn arriving in South Africa - 9,986 Somalis and 12,670 Ethiopians were registered by the Department of Home Affairs. In 2010, there were 4,707 Somalis and 2,438 Ethiopians registered as new arrivals.
"Sadly, this is not the only boat disaster this week that has come to our attention. Our office in Canberra issued a statement overnight relating to a boat accident between Indonesia and Australia in which a number of people -- presumed to be asylum seekers -- lost their lives. The rescue effort is still underway", says the statement.
The Herald and Xinhua