Authorities in the self-declared autonomous region of Puntland, northeastern Somalia, have begun a campaign to detain and repatriate would-be migrants waiting to be smuggled into Yemen and the Gulf states, Puntland's deputy police chief said on Tuesday.
"As of today, we have repatriated 236 migrants to their homes in Ethiopia and southern Somalia," said Col. Abdiaziz Sa'id Ga'amey, who leads a special unit to deal with migrants.
He said at least 81 migrants, "who were trying to board boats" to Yemen, had been arrested and charged in court. "They have been sentenced to be deported." Those arrested included Ethiopian and Somali nationals.
Ga'amey said the Puntland government had issued a decree that "any boats or vehicles caught carrying migrants will be confiscated".
"They [the authorities] are going after the traffickers’ properties. They want to hurt them economically," said Abdinasir Mire Aden, of the Bosaso-based Radio Midnimo.
Abdinasir said the police had confiscated six trucks and buses caught "carrying suspected migrants".
Ga’amey said the crackdown coincided with the beginning of the sailing season (September to March) when traffickers usually send would-be migrants to Yemen.
Traffickers make most of the arrangements, such as collecting fees and making deals with the boat owners in Bosaso, the commercial capital of the region, and send the people to the coastal villages of Marer, 10 km south, and Qaw to the west of Bosaso, to be picked up. The traffickers charge up to US $50 a person, which could take more than a year to raise, he said.
In search of security, refuge from persecution or improved economic conditions, many Ethiopians and Somalis set sail from Puntland, trying to reach the Middle East or beyond. Since 2005, hundreds of migrants have died trying to reach Yemen, often packed like sardines in boats that can barely withstand the weather conditions in the high seas.
Ga'amey said Puntland was determined to stop its territory being used as a transit point for human trafficking. "We will continue this campaign until we have sent every migrant back to their homes."
He said his forces would keep up the pressure on the traffickers and had already arrested seven, "who have been taken to court, convicted and are serving jail terms of one to two years".