The U.N. refugee agency reports thousands of desperate Somalis are flooding the northern town of Bossaso, waiting for the first opportunity to sail across the Gulf of Aden. Since early May, the UNHCR says 12,000 people have fled to Bosasso to escape fighting in the Somali capital, Mogadishu.
The U.N. refugee agency says the people who have fled to Bossaso are part of the more than 230,000 Somalis who have been forced to leave their homes since May 7, when fighting between al-Shabab and Hisbul Islam militia groups and government forces erupted in Mogadishu.
UNHCR Spokesman Ron Redmond says the 12,000 Somalis who have arrived in Bossaso are there only temporarily. He says most of them are waiting for the opportunity to board a smuggler's boat that will take them across the Gulf of Aden.
"Our partners in Bossaso report that the areas where the potential migrants usually settle are getting more and more crowded and smugglers are already collecting bookings and cash from Somalis bound for Yemen," Redmond said. "As the sea is already very dangerous because of the prevailing weather conditions, the majority of the people are expected to camp in Bossaso and wait for September, when the winds are more favorable."
Redmond says the UNHCR and other aid agencies in Bossaso are doing what they can to try to deter the Somalis from undertaking this perilous voyage.
Last year, the UNHCR reports more than 1,000 people drowned en route as they were thrown overboard or forced to disembark too far from the shore by unscrupulous smugglers. The UNHCR says this year almost 300 have died or are missing.
Redmond says efforts are continuing to try to curb this dangerous activity.
"It has been a losing battle," he said. "These people are obviously reaching the end of their rope. They see no future in Somalia and many of them are so desperate that they are willing to risk their lives and the lives of their families to escape. So, it is really a difficult situation."
The UNHCR says the smuggling places increasing strain on Yemen's limited resources. Nevertheless, it says the Yemen government recognizes all Somalis who arrive as de-facto refugees.
Redmond says the UNHCR and other agencies take care of the Somalis once they arrive in Yemen. He says many are sheltering in a camp run by the UNHCR, while tens of thousands of refugees, who have opted to stay, live in urban areas around the country. He says others still make their way to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries.