Deadly smuggling of refugees from Somalia to Yemen picks up pace, UN agency says

15 September 2006

More and more people are being smuggled across the Gulf of Aden from Somalia to Yemen, the United Nations refugee agency, which has repeatedly been warning of the dangers involved, said today.

“If the present trend continues, this month could set a new record for the number of arrivals,” Ron Redmond, a spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told a press briefing in Geneva.

“These are desperate people – mainly Somalis but also large numbers of Ethiopians – who are fleeing insecurity and poverty. For a fee of $40 each, they are crammed into rickety, open fishing vessels. Many making the hazardous voyage will not survive,” he said.

Those arriving on Wednesday reported that two male passengers had drowned when they were forced overboard while still in deep water. Four were reported to have drowned from the first boat to arrive this season in early September, according to UNHCR.

The smugglers are operating from the commercial port of Bossasso in Puntland, a self-declared autonomous area of north-east Somalia, over 300 kilometres from Yemen.

“UNHCR has worked in the region to inform people about the dangers and has called on the international community to press authorities in Puntland to crack down on smugglers,” said Mr. Redmond, noting that “hundreds die before reaching shore each year.”

The agency has also asked donors to back international efforts to help in Puntland, “where living conditions encourage acts like sailing to Yemen,” he added.

There are currently more than 88,000 registered refugees in Yemen, of whom 84,000 are Somalis. UNHCR operates a reception centre and camp in Yemen.


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