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UNHCR urges halt to deportations from Puntland

Map of Somalia

The United Nations refugee agency expressed concern on Tuesday over the deportation of migrants by authorities in Puntland, northeastern Somalia. UN agencies had requested the expulsions be halted to allow time to ascertain whether there were genuine asylum-seekers among those being deported, mainly to Ethiopia.

The exercise to deport the would-be migrants began last week, with Puntland's police saying people were being repatriated to Ethiopia and southern Somalia. Deputy Police Commissioner Abdiaziz Sa'id Ga'amey said some of the deportees intended to be smuggled from the port of Bosaso to Yemen.

"We have received reports that last Sunday some 1,300 Ethiopian migrants were handed over to Ethiopian authorities at the border town of Galladi, in southeastern Ethiopia. Some of the deportees were reportedly injured as they attempted to jump off the trucks to escape deportation," UNHCR said in a statement.

Another group of about 500 migrants was being held at a mosque in Bosaso awaiting deportation, according to UNHCR, which was working with the authorities to identify potential asylum-seekers among the group. The UN World Food Programme and the Danish Refugee Council had agreed to provide one-off food assistance to the group.

UNHCR had also learned that hundreds of internally displaced Somalis had been arrested and detained to be sent back to other parts of Somalia - mainly to the strife-torn south and central regions.

"While countries have a right to deport illegal immigrants, authorities have to ensure those being returned would not have their lives or freedom threatened if sent back to their countries of origin," UNHCR said.

The agency added that its protection officers were due to travel to Bosaso on Wednesday to finalise arrangements to restart a process to determine refugee status. The team was also expected to meet authorities there for talks aimed at ensuring the rights of asylum-seekers and detainees were respected.

According to UNHCR, the deportations seemed to be the result of a 25 September decree issued by the president of Puntland aimed at halting human smuggling from Somalia across the Gulf of Aden to Yemen. Since this year's sailing season started in September, at least 54 people have died making the voyage.

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, Ga'amey 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.


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