- Thousands of Somalis fleeing the escalating violence in the capital, Mogadishu, and central Somalia, are making the perilous journey across the Gulf of Aden to begin new lives in Yemen, the United Nations refugee agency reported today.
The report said some 12,000 Somalis – out of 232,000 people who have escaped clashes that broke out in early May between Government forces and the Al-Shabaab and Hisb-ul-Islam militant groups – have reached the northern port town of Bossaso since early May, and most of them are hoping that smugglers will transport them to Yemen.
Partners of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) report that Bossaso is already very crowded and that smugglers are already collecting cash from refugees trying to reach Yemen.
“As the sea is already very dangerous because of the prevailing conditions, the majority of the people are expected to camp in Bossaso and wait for September, when winds are more favourable,” UNHCR spokesperson Ron Redmond told reporters in Geneva today.
Last year, over 50,000 people are said to have reached Yemen’s shores, marking a 70 percent increase from 2007. During the first half of 2009 alone, more than 30,000 people have made the “dangerous journey” to Yemen, Mr Redmond noted.
In 2008, over 1,000 people died, either being thrown overboard or forced to disembark from boats too far from the shore by smugglers, as they attempted to make landfall in Yemen, he added.
So far this year, nearly 300 people have lost their lives or are missing as they tried to cross the Gulf of Aden, according to UNHCR.
“The smuggling phenomenon places increasing strain on Yemen’s limited resources and poses more challenges to the Government’s efforts to balance its obligations under international law with the need to protect the country from illegal entry,” Mr Redmond said.
New arrivals are picked up by UNHCR’s partner agencies and taken to reception centres where they are registered and given food, shelter, medical assistance and other basic assistance while they recover from their journey.
“The government of Yemen recognises Somalis as refugees on a prima facie basis,” the agency’s spokesperson said, adding that the refugees can choose to shelter at the Kharaz camp two hours west of the Yemeni capital, Aden, where they receive legal and physical protection and help.
Already 13,000 refugees, mostly from Somalia, have made Kharaz camp home temporarily, while tens of thousands of other refugees have chosen to stay in urban areas around Yemen.
Somalia is one of the world’s biggest refugee-producing countries, and UNHCR is providing protection and assistance to nearly 500,000 Somali refugees in nearby countries while also reaching out to 1.3 million people displaced within Somalia.
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