Somali refugee flow across the Gulf of Aden slows down this year

News Stories, 9 April 2010

© UNHCR/J.Björgvinsson
An exhausted survivor of the dangerous sea crossing to Yemen from the Horn of Africa.

ADEN, Yemen, April 9 (UNHCR) The number of people crossing the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea in mixed migration flows to Yemen has nearly halved during the first quarter of the year in comparison with the same period in 2009.

This year, some 9,400 people reached the shores of Yemen in the first three months after setting off from countries in the Horn of Africa. This compares to nearly 17,000 between January and March last year.

The largest drop is registered in the number of Somali arrivals. Some 3,200 Somali refugees arrived in Yemen this year, about a third of the number that crossed in the first quarter of 2009.

Today, Somali refugees represent every third new arrival in Yemen. During the same period in 2009, Somalis accounted for more than half of all the new arrivals by sea. Somali arrivals are automatically recognized as refugees in Yemen and the country hosts more than 170,000 Somali refugees.

However, the drop in the number of Somali arrivals has not been driven by an improvement in the security situation within the country. Many Somali civilians are daily forced to flee their homes to escape waves of fighting between government forces and militias.

This year began with some of the deadliest fighting in Somalia since early 2009. The first three months of 2010 recorded some of the highest forced displacement rates since January last year, with almost 170,000 people fleeing their homes in south and central Somalia, particularly from Mogadishu.

However, the number of new Somali arrivals in the region remains relatively small. More than 20,000 Somalis have fled to neighbouring countries, mostly to Kenya and Ethiopia, this year.

Meanwhile, most of the internally displaced Somalis have found shelter in makeshift camps along the Afgooye corridor just outside Mogadishu or have headed for safer areas of the capital.

Somali refugees reaching Yemen claim that those fleeing the fighting face increasing difficulties in reaching Bossaso in northern Somalia, where they wait for a chance to board smugglers' boats sailing for Yemen. They cite general insecurity as the main reason deterring their movements towards the north. In addition, they say that more and more people simply have no means to pay for the trip to Puntland.

The refugees also report that Puntland authorities are trying to stem the human trafficking and they add that a large number of new arrivals are waiting in Bossaso for the chance to reach Yemen. UNHCR teams in northern Somalia continue to assist the displaced population. In addition, information campaigns warn about the risks involved in making the sea crossing.

There are an estimated 1.4 million internally displaced people in Somalia while nearly 570,000 Somalis live as refugees in neighbouring countries.

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Refugee Protection and Mixed Migration: A 10-Point Plan of Action

A UNHCR strategy setting out key areas in which action is required to address the phenomenon of mixed and irregular movements of people. See also: Schematic representation of a profiling and referral mechanism in the context of addressing mixed migratory movements.

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Migrants are different from refugees but the two sometimes travel alongside each other.

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Crossing the Gulf of Aden

Every year thousands of people in the Horn of Africa - mainly Somalis and Ethiopians - leave their homes out of fear or pure despair, in search of safety or a better life. They make their way over dangerous Somali roads to Bossaso in the northern semi-autonomous region of Puntland.

In this lawless area, smuggler networks have free reign and innocent and desperate civilians pay up to US$150 to make the perilous trip across the Gulf of Aden.

Some stay weeks on end in safe houses or temporary homes in Bossaso before they can depart. A sudden call and a departure in the middle of the night, crammed in small unstable boats. At sea, anything can happen to them - they are at the whim of smugglers. Some people get beaten, stabbed, killed and thrown overboard. Others drown before arriving on the beaches of Yemen, which have become the burial ground for hundreds who many of those who died en route.

Crossing the Gulf of Aden

Somalia/Ethiopia

In February 2005, one of the last groups of Somalilander refugees to leave Aisha refugee camp in eastern Ethiopia boarded a UNHCR convoy and headed home to Harrirad in North-west Somalia - the self-declared independent state of Somaliland. Two years ago Harrirad was a tiny, sleepy village with only 67 buildings, but today more than 1,000 people live there, nearly all of whom are former refugees rebuilding their lives.

As the refugees flow back into Somalia, UNHCR plans to close Aisha camp by the middle of the year. The few remaining refugees in Aisha - who come from southern Somalia - will most likely be moved to the last eastern camp, Kebribeyah, already home to more than 10,000 refugees who cannot go home to Mogadishu and other areas in southern Somalia because of continuing lawlessness there. So far refugees have been returning to only two areas of the country - Somaliland and Puntland in the north-east.

Somalia/Ethiopia

Flood Airdrop in Kenya

Over the weekend, UNHCR with the help of the US military began an emergency airdrop of some 200 tonnes of relief supplies for thousands of refugees badly hit by massive flooding in the Dadaab refugee camps in northern Kenya.

In a spectacular sight, 16 tonnes of plastic sheeting, mosquito nets, tents and blankets, were dropped on each run from the C-130 transport plane onto a site cleared of animals and people. Refugees loaded the supplies on trucks to take to the camps.

Dadaab, a three-camp complex hosting some 160,000 refugees, mainly from Somalia, has been cut off from the world for a month by heavy rains that washed away the road connecting the remote camps to the Kenyan capital, Nairobi. Air transport is the only way to get supplies into the camps.

UNHCR has moved 7,000 refugees from Ifo camp, worst affected by the flooding, to Hagadera camp, some 20 km away. A further 7,000 refugees have been moved to higher ground at a new site, called Ifo 2.

Posted in December 2006

Flood Airdrop in Kenya

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