Somalia’s worsening humanitarian crisis
is blamed for a large increase in the number of people trying to flee the
country to Yemen. The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) says over 50 thousand people
used smugglers to cross the gulf in 2008. Nearly 600 of them drowned and about
360 were reported missing.
Nairobi, Catherine Wiebel, spokesperson for the UNHCR, talked to VOA English to
Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua, comparing the 2007 and 2008 figures.
almost 50 percent more people who tried to do the crossing,” she says.
and Yemen authorities have programs in place to help the refugees if they make
it safely ashore.
they are Somalis they are automatically granted refugee status because they
come from a country which direly affected by conflict. Many of them go to
refugee camps, which are managed by UNHCR. Others live like urban refugees or
they try to find jobs within the towns in Yemen. But of course they live in
difficult conditions because it’s a poor country and it’s not easy for them to
find a job,” she says.
for the many Ethiopians, who cross the Gulf of Aden, most of them are said to
travel to the gulf countries on their own.
figures say at least 590 people drowns and 359 were reported missing. Much of
this can be blamed on smugglers forcing their passengers overboard.
says, “Most people, who die, die because they are not able to swim. Very often
the smugglers don’t want to take the risk of being arrested by the Yemeni coast
guard. So, instead of going to the shore and letting people disembark the boats
safely, they just ask them to disembark when they are still in high seas. And
of course many of the people who were on the boat are women (and) children.
These people have not been able to drink water for sometimes many days. They
are very exhausted. They are often asked to jump into the water at night and of
course many of them drown.”
says the price to hire a smuggler varies, depending on the weather and the time
of the year. “Currently, we could say that the price of the crossing is between
$75 and $100 per person,” she says.
of the high price, many men leave their families behind, hoping to make the
crossing, find a job and then send money back to pay smugglers to bring them
across. This is often the case in Bosasso in northeastern Somalia.
says, “Very often it results in families being broken because someone will do
the crossing, but not all members of the family can go.”
humanitarian crisis in Somalia is considered one of the worst, if not the
worst, in the world. As a result, more Somalis are fleeing the country, willing
to risk a dangerous gulf crossing.
few years ago, the number of people who were crossing was equally divided
between the Ethiopian migrants and the Somali. But…more recently, there has
been an increase in the number of Somalis who want to cross. In 2008, for
instance, two-thirds of the people who crossed were Somalis,” she says.
Many of the Somalis were originally
from the capital, Mogadishu. “They are totally in despair because they have
been out of the city for sometimes as long as two years. They think that they
cannot go back. So, for them, the idea is to go, leave their country at once
and try to rebuild their life abroad,” says.