Islamic Courts force Somalis afloat [Archives:2006/1002/Local News]

November 27 2006

SANA'A, Nov. 26 ) Hundreds of Somali refugees who crossed the Gulf of Aden in smugglers' overcrowded boats said they had fled to Yemen from the extremist policies of the Islamic Courts movement that controls much of Somalia, a UN agency said Friday.

“More than 22,000 people have crossed the Gulf of Aden from Somalia to Yemen this year in smugglers' boats. At least 355 died making the perilous voyage and more than 150 are missing. About half of those arriving on the coast of Yemen eventually sought and received assistance from UNHCR upon arrival,” said UN High Commissioner for Refugees spokesperson Ron Redmond at a news briefing in Geneva.

He confirmed that only over the past eight days, nearly 1,500 Somalis and Ethiopians arrived in 12 boats. At least 18 people aboard those boats died and 17 are considered missing. The boats from Somalia usually land along a remote, 300 km stretch of tribal-ruled coastline. UNHCR, which has only limited access to the often insecure coast, was able over the past eight days to transport 853 Somalis and Ethiopians to the May'fa reception centre, providing them with food, water, medical care and other assistance.

“Most new arrivals told our teams that they were from southern and central Somalia, where they claim their freedom has been significantly curtailed since the region came under the control earlier this year of the Islamic Courts Union. They also cite an increase in inter-tribal and inter-clan conflict and say they fear for their lives,” explained Redmond. “They say the Islamic Courts ruled that men must be the sole family breadwinners and that women are expected to stay at home. Some of the arrivals said they came from the Ethiopian and Somali border where they say there had been recent military activity.”

UNHCR has repeatedly warned of atrocities committed by people smugglers, last month reporting the case of five Ethiopians who were beaten by the smugglers, thrown overboard and attacked by sharks in view of the others on the vessel.

The UN has called for international action and donor support to tackle the root causes of the smuggling and to give protection for victims and prosecution of smugglers. The migrants are mostly men who cite insecurity, drought and economic hardship for their homeland.

Yemen is one of the few countries in the region that signed the 1951 Refugee Convention and according to this convention Somalis entering Yemen are automatically granted refugee status by the government. There are currently more than 88,000 registered refugees in Yemen of whom 84,000 are Somalis.