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People-Smuggling Sparks UN Warning

Revival Of Deadly Annual People-Smuggling From Somalia To Yemen Sparks UN Warning

The deadly annual people-smuggling season has resumed in the Gulf of Aden, prompting the United Nations refugee agency to warn that hundreds of people could perish attempting to travel from Somalia to Yemen this year unless authorities crack down on the activity.

Four overcrowded fishing boats carrying 363 people between them have reached Yemen in less than a week, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported today. Survivors on one of the boats stated that four other passengers died when the crew forced them overboard while far from shore.

UNHCR officials voiced fear that a boat carrying about 100 people is likely to arrive every day in Yemen during the September-April sailing season, placing the lives of countless people in jeopardy. During the three previous seasons, hundreds of Africans have died in the crossing.

Adel Jasmin, UNHCR’s representative in Yemen, said “though the sea is still rough, the sailing season has started. Hundreds of people, looking for refuge or for better economic conditions, are believed to be lost at sea every year when they are exploited by smuggling rings.”

Passengers who reach Yemen routinely report inhumane conditions aboard the boats, with no water or food available and rough treatment, including beatings, by crew members. But the continuing insecurity, drought and economic hardship in Somalia mean many people are still willing to undertake the journey. Many Ethiopians are also making the crossing.

Smugglers operate their business from the port of Bossasso in Puntland, a self-declared autonomous region in north-eastern Somalia.

“The first group to arrive this season had waited for a week before the boat could take them from Bossasso to Yemen,” Mr. Jasmin said. “And they said there are large groups waiting for their turn to cross. These survivors said there are three boats fully operational for now, running people between Puntland and Yemen.”

High Commissioner António Guterres urged the international community to press local authorities in Puntland to crack down on the smugglers and to provide greater financial assistance to internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the impoverished region to discourage them from wanting to leave.

Earlier this year UNHCR produced a radio and video programme to raise awareness among Somalis of the risks in trying to cross the Gulf of Aden, while the agency and the International Maritime Organization have also prepared a pamphlet to guide ship owners and captains, insurance companies, governments and anyone else who could be involved in rescues at sea.

In Yemen, UNHCR operates a reception centre to process the arrivals and determine if they are seeking asylum. So far this season most people have said they plan to leave Yemen to obtain jobs in Persian Gulf countries.


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