Many more African migrants risk Yemen voyage

The number of Horn of Africa migrants making the perilous crossing to Yemen rose sharply during this year’s May-July monsoon season, the riskiest time to attempt the voyage, the UN said yesterday.
Some 11 000 people made the journey in May-July this year, a UN refugee agency (UNHCR) spokesperson said, compared with 4000 who made the crossing in the same 2008 period.
Only 200 made the journey during the same period in 2007, said Roberta Russo, the UNHCR spokesperson from Somalia.
“We have registered a sharp increase in people crossing the Gulf of Aden in this dangerous season,” Russo said.
About 3000 of those who made the crossing this year were Somalis, many of them fleeing fighting in their homeland, and nearly all the rest were Ethiopians. Many of those who attempt the crossing die on the way, Reuters reports.
Hundreds of people are often crammed into small rickety vessels by people smugglers and brave the 30-hour journey with little food or water.
Nearly 300 migrants have died or gone missing this year after being forced overboard far from shore and more than 1000 drowned while making the voyage in 2008, the UNHCR says.
Last month the UNHCR said that Yemen, a gateway to the Middle East, was increasingly strained by the influx of Somalis fleeing fighting in their homeland.
Yemen recognises 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 neighbours, Saudi Arabia and Oman, in search of jobs.
Russo said there were more than 5000 people wanting to leave for Yemen who were waiting at the northern Somali port of Bossaso for the weather to improve next month.

Pic: Refugees from CAR