SOMALIA: Crackdown on people smuggling in Puntland

Friday, September 7, 2007

Somalia's self-declared autonomous region of Puntland has cracked down on people smugglers who have been using its ports as a springboard to get illegal migrants into the Gulf States, the head of police said.

The crackdown is intended to stop the smuggling of Ethiopian and Somali migrants to countries like Yemen and Saudi Arabia, a phenomenon that peaks at this time of the year.

"We have increased our patrols to deal with this problem before the [people smuggling] season starts in earnest," Gen Abdiaziz Said Gaamey, Puntland's police chief told IRIN from Bossaso, Puntland's commercial capital, on 6 September. "We have so far confiscated five boats and three trucks used by the smugglers to ferry the migrants."

The smuggling season usually runs from this month until December.

Gamaey said a few thousand Somalis from southern Somalia and Ethiopians were already in Bossaso and the surrounding area.

According to a report by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), at least 3,000 Ethiopians, and an unknown number of Somalis fleeing ongoing fighting in and around Mogadishu, the Somali capital, have gathered in the northern port town of Bossaso to attempt a perilous journey across the Gulf of Aden to Yemen.

The police chief said they had been getting reports of migrants in bad condition on the roads north and south of Bossaso. "We had to rent trucks to pick them up. Sometimes we find them in a terrible state."


Gaamey said the Puntland authorities repatriated 3,000-5,000 migrants last year "but more seem to come". However, he said the problem was bigger than Puntland and needed to be addressed internationally.

"Puntland is doing its bit to address the problem," he said. "What is missing is the international community. This is a huge problem and Puntland alone cannot contain it."

Despite the crackdown, many migrants were still arriving in Bossaso, according to local sources.

The police have, meanwhile, started a campaign to explain the dangers of the journey facing the migrants, said Gaamey. "Detained migrants have officers assigned to them to explain the dangers," he said.

Sources said most migrants were a mixture of political and economic refugees in search of safety, refuge from persecution, or improved economic conditions. Many of them are Ethiopians and Somalis trying to reach the Middle East or beyond.

According to the UNHCR, at least 367 people have died crossing from Bossaso to Yemen since January.

Source: IRIN
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