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3,500 People Risk Somalia-Yemen Smuggling Trip

3,500 People Risk Somalia-Yemen Trip In First Month Of New Smuggling ‘Season’ - UN

New York, Oct 6 2006 12:00PM

With some 35 smuggling boats carrying over 3,500 people on the sometimes deadly trip from Somalia to Yemen in the past month, the United Nations refugee agency today reiterated its calls for international action and donor support to tackle the root causes of the problem, including protection for the victims and prosecution of the smugglers.

At least 54 people have died and 60 others are missing since the smugglers once again began sailing rickety, overcrowded boats across the Gulf of Aden with the onset of calmer weather at the beginning of September, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported.

The new arrivals said a smuggling crackdown by local militia and police was under way in Bossasso, in the self-declared autonomous state of Puntland, north-eastern Somalia. They told UNHCR staff in Yemen that many people irrespective of nationality, gender or status had allegedly been sent to Mogadishu, Somalia’s capital, or detained in Bossasso, apparently as a result of a Puntland decree banning human smuggling.

UNHCR has repeatedly called for international action and donor support to tackle the root causes of people smuggling in the Gulf of Aden, including protection for the victims and prosecution of smugglers. “Any crackdown should target the smugglers, not the refugees, asylum seekers and desperate migrants they prey upon, UNHCR spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis told a news briefing in Geneva.

Earlier this year UNHCR launched an awareness campaign in Puntland aimed at potential passengers warning them of the dangers involved in using smugglers to cross the Gulf of Aden. Despite these efforts, many people continue to take the risk and some are dying before reaching shore.

The UNHCR has repeatedly cited reports in which smugglers have killed their passengers. Last month refugees on one boat reported that 15 people died during the voyage, 10 of them beaten to death by the smugglers with wooden and steel clubs. The bodies were thrown overboard.

The smuggling increased significantly in the first four months of this year when 10,500 Somalis and Ethiopians made the perilous journey and hundreds were reported to have been hurled overboard to drown by the gun-toting traffickers.

The migrants are mostly men who cite insecurity, drought and economic hardship in Somalia, Ethiopia and Sudan as reasons for leaving. The fees charged by the smugglers dropped by 50 per cent in late September but have reportedly gone up again, from $50 to $70, in the last few days. With the Bossasso crackdown, boats now appear to be leaving from other departure points along the 700-kilometre Puntland coastline.

Ends

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