The UN refugee agency
says a lot more Somalis and Ethiopians have tried to cross the Gulf of Aden
this year compared to last. However, hundreds have died in the attempt, often
at the hands of smugglers.
Helene Caux is a spokesperson for the UNHCR. From
Geneva, she spoke to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about
attempts to cross the gulf and reach Yemen.
"It's much worse this year because we're only 10
months in(to) the year of 2008 and already we have over 38,000 people who have
tried to make the dangerous crossing by boat from northern Somalia to the coast
of Yemen. In comparison, last year…you had…29,500 people who made the same
journey. In the first 10 months of this year, you have over 600 people who have
been reported dead or missing.… Last year, the death total reached 1,400. So,
in a way you have less people who are dead or missing, but it's still a huge
problem in the Gulf of Aden. More and more people are trying to cross to
Yemen," she says.
She says that there are a number of causes for
the migration, among them the humanitarian crisis in Somalia. "There's also
lack of development in Ethiopia and Somalia. So people are basically crossing
for different reasons, also for protection reasons," she says.
Those attempting to cross in smugglers' boats are
mainly Somalis and Ethiopians. "To give you an example of the latest incident
we can report about, it took place on Sunday when a boat left northern Somalia
to Yemen. There were 115 people on board and 40 people, mainly Ethiopians, were
forced to go into the sea in the deep water. As of today, only 12 bodies have
been recovered," she says.
The migrants are easy prey for the smugglers.
Caux says, "Basically what usually happens is that when the boats are in view
of the Yemeni coast smugglers start to blackmail the people, the passengers,
and ask for more money. It happened many times in the past. So, it's something
which, unfortunately, is quite common."
If passengers refuse to pay more or the
smugglers fear attack from Yemeni patrol boats, they are often thrown