Lost Somalis seek national help

  • 2005-08-10
  • By Aaron Eglitis
RIGA - Seven people from Somalia mysteriously appeared at the Riga office of the Latvian Red Cross on Aug. 5 seeking aid and food. Border guards were unable to explain exactly how the Somalis arrived in Latvia, although it is believed that they traveled via cargo ship.

Their final destination was supposed to be a Scandinavian country.

The Somalis apparently had no travel documents, and only two speak English, albeit rather poorly, said Border Guard spokeswoman Solveiga Jablonska. The rest of the group speaks a dialect of Amharic, a language indigenous to Ethiopia.

Authorities successfully located an Amharic speaker in Estonia to help officials converse with the Africans, Jablonska said, adding that the interpreter had arrived and was ready to meet the group.

The Somalis' fate can only be determined after conversations, facilitated by the interpreter, reveal additional information.

The seven are currently being housed at the illegal migrant center in Olaine. In the past the facility has served as a temporary home for Kurdish refugees from the first Gulf War, as well as other people seeking asylum or passing through the country without travel documents.

The Somalis reportedly were unaware that they had docked in Latvia. More precise data, however, would not be available until later, said Jablonska.

The local Red Cross said that the Somalis neither asked for asylum nor refugee status but accepted first aid and breakfast.

Dita Malniece of the Latvian Red Cross said the agency did not question where the Somalis had come from. "Our job is not to explain every nuance, just to give help," she told the Baltic News Service.

After the group disembarked from a ship at an unknown port, they were taken to a trailer and then left alone in the capital, Malniece concluded.

"They only knew that they had crossed over some bridge, and their shoes were filled with sand," she said.

The group of two women and five men, who first met on the ship after coming from disparate areas of Somalia, reportedly wanted to legalize their stay in the country. It remains unclear how the Africans managed to locate the Red Cross, as they didn't know what country they were in. Their travel documents were reportedly taken by the person organizing their travel aboard the cargo ship.