U.N. sees strains on Yemen from Somali refugees.

UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond

Halkaan ka akhri

GENEVA (Reuters) – Thousands of Somalis are prepared to risk their lives for the chance to be smuggled into Yemen, a gateway to the Middle East that is under increasing strain from the influx, the U.N. refugee agency said Tuesday.

Ron Redmond, spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, said the harrowing Gulf of Aden crossing was the last recourse for many of the 232,000 people who have fled fighting between Islamic militias and government forces in Mogadishu.

About 12,000 have crammed into temporary shelter in Bossaso, in northern Somalia, and plan to pay smugglers for a rickety boat ride to Yemen when sea conditions are calmer in September, Redmond said, while warning that many of those who attempt the journey do not make it alive.

Nearly 300 would-be migrants have died or gone missing so far this year after being forced overboard far from shore, and more than 1,000 drowned attempting the voyage in 2008, according to UNHCR figures.

“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,” Redmond told a news briefing in Geneva.

The UNHCR and its aid partners are working “to convince people not to get on those very dangerous smugglers’ boats,” and also to provide food and medical aid to those arriving in Yemen to alleviate pressure on their poor host government, which is struggling to fight al Qaeda attacks and tribal unrest.

Yemen recognizes all Somalis as refugees on a “prima facie basis,” meaning they are automatically granted the right to stay. But many of those who cross the Gulf of Aden move on to Yemen’s neighbors Saudi Arabia and Oman in pursuit of jobs.

Redmond said there was no sign that Yemen was buckling under the strain of the new arrivals, but stressed that continued assistance was necessary to avoid tipping the scale.

“The smuggling phenomenon places increasing strain on Yemen’s limited resources and poses more challenges to the government’s efforts to balance its obligations under international law with the need to protect the country from illegal entry,” he said.

Yemen, an Arabian Peninsula state of 23 million people, is the ancestral home of the al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

The government is struggling to confront a string of Western kidnappings, a Shi’ite Muslim rebellion in the north and rising secessionist sentiment in the south. Such unrest has raised fears that the country could become a new haven for Islamic militants on the border with Saudi Arabia, the world’s top oil exporter.

Source:   Reuters


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