Potential migrants gather in Puntland
April 29, 2009 by Webmaster
(IRIN) – Thousands of Somalis and Ethiopians have gathered in Bosasso, commercial capital of the self-declared autonomous region of Puntland, with the aim of attempting the perilous journey across the Gulf of Aden to Yemen, officials told IRIN.
Mohamed Ahmed Ugas, a local government regional coordinator, said Puntland authorities had been sending many migrants back to their homes “but they keep coming back; for now we are not sending them back.
“Our estimate is that there are between 2,000 and 4,000 migrants currently in and around Bosasso,” said Ugas, adding that up to four boats, carrying about 100 people each, were leaving Bosasso every week for Yemen.
He said the new Puntland administration – which came into power following elections in January 2009, wanted to stem the flow of migrants “but without the help of the international community it won’t be able to do it”.
Puntland alone does not have the capacity to control the smuggling, Ugas said. “We have a very long coast and we don’t have the means to patrol it.”
Mohamed Mahamud Welcome, editor of Bosasso-based Daljir Radio, told IRIN more women were leaving. “In the past, fewer than 10-20 percent of the migrants were women; now they form almost half, especially the Ethiopians,” he said.
Smugglers were reportedly charging each migrant US$100 for the trip to Yemen, said Welcome, who visited one of the beach ports used by the smugglers.
Sometimes the smugglers did not even take them anywhere near Yemen. “They [smugglers] take these poor people on the boat, wander around the Somali coast for a night and dump them near a Somali town telling them it is Yemen,” said Welcome, adding, “They are incredibly cruel.”
He said: “When you talk to the migrants they seem aware of the dangers but are still willing to risk it all. These are desperate people who won’t listen to any advice not to undertake the journey. Unfortunately they will keep on doing it.”
The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said the number of those who crossed to Yemen in 2008 was 50,000, of whom “more than 1,000 people died during the journey”.
|Boats like this (above) at the port of Bosasso carry dozens of migrants when they leave for Yemen – file photo|
Roberta Russo, an associate public information officer for UNHCR Somalia, told IRIN on 29 April: “In the first quarter of 2009 [alone], almost 18,000 people crossed into Yemen, a notable increase compared with 2008 when, at a similar date, some 12,800 engaged in the journey.”
Russo said the agency, with the International Organization for Migration (IOM), was leading a taskforce of humanitarian agencies that is developing policies and coordinating responses to protect migrants and asylum seekers who could potentially be smuggled.
She said: “All the activities implemented try either to prevent smuggling or to respond to urgent needs of its victims.”