Somali war causes more exodus to Yemen [Archives:2007/1041/Front Page]

April 12 2007

By:Amel Al-Ariqi
SANA'A-April 11 ) UN report issued this week revealed that thousands of Somalis people have been fleeing Mogadishu, the capital city of Somalia, saying that life in the city has become unbearable.They are part of a massive exodus from battle-torn Mogadishu that has seen almost 100,000 people flee the city since the beginning of February, including some 47,000 in the last two weeks.

The trigger for the massive outflow has been fighting between insurgents, local militia, and the Ethiopian-backed Transitional Federal Government, which captured Mogadishu from the Islamic Courts Union in December.

Meanwhile, UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) has warned again of a new wave of the growing exodus of Somali refugees to Yemen, which is one of the few countries in the region that has signed the 1951 Refugee Convention, and according to this convention Somalis entering Yemen are automatically granted refugee status by the government.

Since the beginning of this year, more than 5,600 people have landed on the Yemeni coast and at least 200 people have died. Many remain missing, said UNHCR confirming in a report issued on Tuesday that the exodus of hundreds of refugees from the Horn of Africa crossing the Gulf of Aden in Yemen continues in worst shapes with increasing violence and fighting in Somalia by the absence of State's authority.

UNHCR spokesperson in Geneva, Ron Redmond, stated that at least 34 people being smuggled from Somalia across the Gulf of Aden drowned after being forced overboard by smugglers in deep waters off the coast of Yemen. The incident occurred early Friday when three smuggling boats, carried 365 people including 234 Ethiopians and 131 Somalis, approached the Yemeni coast near Bir Ali following a two-day voyage from the Bosaso region of Somalia. “Witnesses and survivors said two of the boats had begun dropping their passengers off near shore when they reportedly came under fire from Yemeni authorities and moved back out to sea. Twenty-two people later forced into the deeper water drowned and were buried on the beach.” He said adding that the Geneva-based agency had raised the shooting with Yemeni authorities, who said that the military had orders not to shoot at boats unless they had been fired on first by the smugglers or if they had prior information about a vessel smuggling weapons, drugs, or other contraband.

Redmond mentioned that the third boat which approached the coast of Yemen early Friday afternoon forced its passengers overboard, far from the shore, and another 12 people into drowning. “Passengers aboard the third boat said that they were beaten throughout the voyage from Somalia and that at least two Ethiopian men unable to endure the mistreatment jumped overboard.” He added.

Last year, some 26,000 people made the perilous voyage across the Gulf of Aden and at least 330 died. Another 300 were reported missing and believed dead.

UN report quoted new arrivals spoke of the chaos inside Mogadishu and the problems they have encountered in trying to reach safety. “Almost all of the people have left behind their belongings and brought only what they could carry in their hands. Some families left behind their young men to protect their homes,” said the UNHCR staff member.

According to the report, many locals have compared the situation to the mass movement which followed the fall of the Siad Barre regime and the ensuing civil war in Somalia more than 15 years ago.

People, mainly women and children, have been leaving the insecure Somali capital either on foot or on small vehicles, trucks, buses, wheelbarrows and even donkey carts. Some families have left weak, sick or elderly family members behind in Mogadishu.

Diplomatic Efforts to stop conflicts

Yemeni Foreign minister Abu Bakr Alqarbi called the European Union -on Monday in a meeting attended by Yemeni and European officials at the headquarters of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Sana'a – to involve more affectively in settling peace and stability to Somali. A source from ministry of Foreign referred to Yemen efforts on the regional and international levels to stop the ongoing violent clashes in Somalia, saying that Yemen called for a national conference for conciliating with the participation of all Somali parties. He did not give any information of the place of where the conference will be. Yemen had participated in the meetings of the International Dialogue Group for Somalia held recently in the Egyptian capital Cairo.