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UNHCR head urges action against human trafficking

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IRIN

The head of the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) urged the international community on Friday to take measures to stop desperate people being smuggled out of Somalia to Yemen by unscrupulous traders.

At least 150 people have died in dangerous boat journeys across the Gulf of Aden from Somalia during the past three weeks, the agency announced on Friday.

Twenty-five people were reported dead on Friday off the coast of Yemen, while at least 75 bodies washed ashore at the beginning of September after smugglers on four boats carrying some 400 people forced the passengers to jump overboard as they neared the coast.

Another 39 people were rescued from their drifting boat by a Danish ship on the night of 7 September, but one man died before he could receive proper medical attention.

"With the sailing season just starting, we cannot simply stand by for the next several months while hundreds or thousands more desperate people go to their deaths in the Gulf of Aden at the hands of smugglers," António Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said in a statement.

"The international community has to help -– and put pressure on -– local authorities in Puntland and Bossaso to crack down on the smugglers," he added, referring to the coastal area of Somalia’s northeast region.

"We need to get information to those being exploited by the smugglers as well, so they know the dangers," he said. "We're also appealing to international shippers to keep an eye for boats in distress in the Gulf, and on governments in the region to do all they can to help those who need it on their shores."

In the latest incident on Friday, two boats run by Somali smugglers and carrying about 120 people were found offshore by Yemeni coastal guards. Ten people were found dead in the engine room of one boat, and two others died after being taken ashore. Survivors said another 13 had died during the voyage and their bodies were thrown overboard.

On 7 September, the Danish tanker ship Eli Maersk rescued 39 Somalis and Ethiopians who had been drifting in the Gulf of Aden for several days after their boat engine failed.

The UNHCR commended the Maersk company and the ship personnel for rescuing the immigrants. Guterres praised the captain and crew of Eli Maersk, and thanked Djiboutian authorities for their help.

Every year between the months of September and March – when the seas are relatively calm -- thousands of people cross the Gulf of Aden in unsafe vessels run by smuggling rings.

In search of safety, refuge from persecution or improved economic conditions, many Somalis set sail from Bossaso in the Puntland region, trying to reach the Middle East or beyond. Hundreds are believed to be lost at sea every year, their deaths unreported.

Those who survive the hazardous journey often arrive in Yemen, where UNHCR runs a reception centre and a camp.

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