More than 50,000 Somalis were smuggled through the Gulf of Aden to Yemen in 2008, the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, said in its latest report obtained on Friday.
The UNHCR regional office in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, said that the figure represented a 70 per cent increase in arrival over the previous year, during which nearly 30,000 people made the journey.
The increase “represents the desperate situation in Somalia, which continues to be scarred by war, instability, natural disasters and poverty,” UNHCR said in the report, titled ‘Protecting refugees in 2009’.
The report said that the illegal trafficking in human being was still fraught with dangers, with a number of immigrants thrown into shark-infested waters off the Somali coast.
“In 2008, 590 passengers drowned and 390 were reported missing. The death toll was substantially higher the previous year, when 1,400 persons died. However, there were again many reports of people being beaten to death or thrown overboard by brutal smugglers,” it said.
An awareness campaign to reduce the number of potential immigrants by educating them on the risks they face has not yielded the desired results.
In 2008, UNHCR said it embarked on raising awareness among migrants through information campaigns.
“Potential asylum seekers were encouraged to apply for asylum in Puntland, while migrants were warned about the dangers of the journey and the lack of job opportunities in Yemen,” the report said.
However, instead of the exodus declining, it shot up following a surge in fighting between the government forces and the Islamic militants.
“In December, an estimated 120,000 Somalis were displaced in Galgaduud, the vast region located in central Somalia, following fights between Al-Shabaab and the Ahlu-Sunna Wal- Jamma militia. Many of these IDPs (Internally-Displaced Persons) have already gone back home as the conflict receded, while the others are likely to return soon,” it said.
A fraction of the displaced, however, found their way to Yemen through the turbulent Gulf of Aden, which is also a haunt for Somali pirates, now infamous around the world for hijacking more than 100 ships in the past 18 months.