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Surge In People Smuggling From Somalia To Yemen

Surge In People Smuggling From Somalia To Yemen Nears 6,000 Since September – UN

New York, Oct 20 2006 10:00AM

Despite a crackdown in Somalia's Puntland region, hundreds of Somalis, Ethiopians and Sudanese are still resorting to smugglers’ boats to make the perilous and sometimes fatal journey across the Gulf of Aden to Yemen, with the total nearing 6,000 in the past seven weeks, the United Nations refugee agency reported today.

“Passengers on one boat reported that five Ethiopians were beaten by the smugglers, thrown overboard and attacked by sharks in view of the others on the vessel,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesperson Ron Redmond told a news briefing in Geneva.

“Upon arrival on the Yemen coast, the smugglers forced 25 Ethiopians to remain onboard one of the boats because it had developed engine trouble and their weight was required to maintain balance for the return voyage to Somalia. They have not been seen since,” he said.

Of the more than 5,700 arrivals since early September, 3,314 Somalis, 200 Ethiopians and two Sudanese were transported to UNHCR’s May'fa reception centre near Bir'Ali in southern Yemen. There, they received medical care, food and assistance from UNHCR and its partners.

For the whole four-month period of the so-called smuggling season at the start of the year the total was 10,500, with hundreds reported to have been hurled overboard to drown by gun-toting traffickers. Some 60 people are reported to have died and 85 are missing since the smugglers once again began sailing the rickety, overcrowded boats with the onset of calmer weather at the beginning of September.

UNHCR has repeatedly called for international action and donor support to tackle the root causes of the smuggling, including protection for the victims and prosecution of smugglers. The migrants are mostly men who cite insecurity, drought and economic hardship reasons for leaving.

In Somalia, UNHCR yesterday began interviewing and counselling Ethiopians following an accord with Puntland authorities allowing it to identify potential asylum-seekers. The agreement follows reports that 1,300 Ethiopians were sent back to their country after Puntland authorities issued a decree last month aimed at stopping the smuggling.

“Our six-member team in Bosaso (in Puntland) has already started to conduct interviews with a group of some 600 Ethiopians who are being held at a mosque in Bosaso by the Puntland authorities,” Mr. Redmond said. “There are an estimated 50 unaccompanied children among them. We are sending a specialist to Bosaso determine their need and status. The authorities estimate that there are at least another 3,000 Ethiopians currently in Puntland. UNHCR will also proceed with screening this group.


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