The International Organization for Migration says it is starting a new outreach and information campaign to try to deter Somali and Ethiopian migrants from making the dangerous journey to Yemen across the Gulf of Aden in smugglers boats. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from IOM headquarters in Geneva.
The town of Bossasso in Somalia's Puntland is considered a human smuggling hotspot. United Nations agencies estimate more than 1,200 people have died so far this year trying to make the dangerous journey from Bossasso to Yemen.
The International Organization for Migration says it is conducting a series of activities in Puntland, which it hopes will reduce the annual loss of lives among people resorting to smuggling networks to transport them to Yemen.
IOM spokeswoman, Jemini Pandya, says the agency's staff will provide information to migrants and asylum seekers of the dangers of their journey along the smuggling routes to Bossasso.
She says staff members will conduct so-called outreach missions in the town of Garow in Puntland. She notes most migrants coming from the capital Mogadishu stop off there on their way to Bossasso. She says similar missions will be conducted in Burao in Somaliland, the main transit point from Ethiopia.
"Along these transit points, IOM staff will be providing information to the migrants and asylum seekers on the dangers of their situation on their journey in addition to advocating for their rights and better protection among the local authorities, communities and elders because there are an awful lot of abuses taking place of the migrants and asylum seekers before they actually can get to Bossasso. The idea is that by placing our staff along these major routes we can help avert the tragedies likely to befall them once they also arrive in Bossasso and on route to Yemen," said Pandya.
IOM reports smugglers charge huge fees to transport migrants across the Gulf of Aden in rickety, overcrowded vessels. It cites horrific cases of brutality and says smugglers often force their passengers overboard, causing many to drown.
Pandya says IOM staff will identify the most vulnerable migrants, such as unaccompanied minors, victims of trafficking and asylum seekers and provide them with appropriate assistance.
"This deployment will also allow us to gather data on migration trends and information, which will enable us to better profile the irregular migrants making this journey," she said. "Ultimately, we hope that this information and data will allow us... to come up with a much more effective humanitarian response to this situation."
Pandya says within the next couple of weeks IOM plans to kick off information campaigns in Ethiopia.
She says Ethiopians account for about 40 percent of those who manage to reach Yemen and they too need to be made aware of the dangers that await them.