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Desperate Somalis Continue to Make Dangerous Sea Journey to Yemen


The U.N. refugee agency says desperate people from Somalia continue to make the perilous journey to Yemen. The UNHCR says the number of people seeking asylum from Somalia has increased since the Islamic Courts Union came to power earlier this year.

The U.N. refugee agency reports more than 22,000 people have crossed the Gulf of Aden from Somalia to Yemen this year in smugglers' boats. It estimates, at least 355 have died making the perilous voyage and more than 150 are missing.

UNHCR spokesman, Ron Redmond, says over the past eight days, nearly 1,500 Somalis and Ethiopians arrived in 12 smugglers' boats. It says at least 18 people aboard those boats died and 17 are missing.

"They claim their freedom has been significantly curtailed there since the region came under the control earlier this year of the Islamic Courts Union,” he noted. “They also cite an increase in inter-tribal and inter-clan conflict and say they fear for their lives. Among other things, they say the ICU (Islamic Courts Union) has now ruled that men must be the sole family breadwinners and women are expected to stay at the home. Some of the arrivals said they also came from the Ethiopian/Somali border area where they say there has been recent military activity."

Redmond says the UNHCR and other aid agencies working in Yemen and Somalia have been trying to educate people about the dangers of getting on these smugglers' boats.

"It is extremely dangerous as the death toll indicates," he added. "There are also information programs-videos, broadcasting and so on to try to educate them about the dangers. But, these people are really desperate. And, they are willing to take the risk regardless of what we tell them. Otherwise, you would not be seeing the numbers still arriving in Yemen that you do."

Redmond says the smugglers' boats usually land along a remote, 300 kilometer stretch of tribal-ruled coastline. He says the UNHCR has only limited access to this insecure coast. But, he says over the past eight days, aid workers were able to transport 853 Somalis and Ethiopians to a reception center where they are receiving help.

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