The number of people making the dangerous boat trip from the Horn of Africa into Yemen has declined by almost half since the beginning of this year, the United Nations refugee agency reported today, saying violence within Somalia could be preventing many would-be migrants from reaching their port of departure.
An estimated 9,400 people from across the Horn of Africa have reached the shores of Yemen since the beginning of this year, compared to nearly 17,000 between January and March 2009, Melissa Fleming, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told reporters in Geneva.
“The largest drop is registered in the number of the new Somali arrivals. Some 3,200 Somali refugees arrived in Yemen this year, which is approximately a third of their number during the first quarter of 2009,” she said.
Currently, Somali refugees represent every third new arrival to Yemen. During the same period of 2009, refugees from Somalia were the overwhelming majority, making up more than half of all of the new arrivals by sea to Yemen, which hosts more than 170,000 Somali refugees.
Somali refugees arriving in Yemen recently claim that those fleeing violence in the country face increasing difficulties in trying to reach the port town of Bossaso in the self-declared autonomous region of Puntland in north-eastern Somalia, from where smugglers transport them across the Gulf of Aden to Yemen, often in crowded boats that are not seaworthy.
The refugees cite general insecurity as the main reason deterring their efforts to reach Bossaso, Ms. Fleming said. They also note that an increasing number of people have no means to pay for the trip to Puntland.
Authorities in Yemen have also stepped up efforts to deter the human trafficking from Bossaso, according to refugee accounts.
UNHCR teams in northern Somalia continue to assist those displaced population and are engaged in intensive information campaigns that warn those contemplating the risky passage to Yemen of the dangers involved.
The civilian population in war-scarred Somalia continues to endure one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world. There are an estimated 1.4 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Somalia while nearly 570,000 others live as refugees in neighbouring countries.