Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Why The Crisis In Somalia Has A Direct Effect On Migration Numbers

In recent weeks there has been a large increase in the numbers of Somali migrants trying to make the crossing from the northern African coast to Europe despite an overall decrease in crossing via this route. Even more appear to be crossing from the Horn of Africa to Yemen. The number of Somali refugees that have arrived on the Yemeni coasts during August is officially put at 2675, which includes more that 1,000 women and 100 children.

Just last weekend, reports from the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) indicate that 16 Somalis drowned after smugglers ferrying them to Yemen forced them overboard into the Gulf of Aden, 64 others from the 2 boats managed to successfully swim to shore.

On Monday (31 August) 75 mainly Somali migrants, included 15 women and three minors, in an overcrowded inflatable were intercepted by the Italian Navy 24 nautical miles south of the island of Sicily. In a conversation with a BBC reporter in Italy, who they managed to contact by satellite phone, they said: "We told the Italian military that we wanted to request asylum and asked them not to hand us over to the Libyans because we were afraid of going to jail, but they wouldn't listen to us,.'

Under Italian law, have been permitted to enter the country and make asylum applications but, as part of Italy's new 'push-back' policy all, except 1 injured man, were taken all the way back to Libya on an Italian naval vessel, after first having refused to board a Libyan naval vessel which had come to take them part of the way back to Tripoli. The day after (Tuesday) another group of 84 Somali migrants were rescued off Malta by a Maltese army patrol boat.

All this comes after a statement by Oxfam condemning the "total failure of the international community to deal effectively with the Somalia crisis and help end the war is resulting in a spiral of human suffering and exodus to neighbouring countries." Poor sanitation and little access to basic services such as water and medicine due to an ineffective response are creating a public health emergency in camps. With Somalis fleeing "one of the world’s most brutal conflicts and a desperate drought, only to end up in unimaginable conditions in camps that are barely fit for humans" is it any wonder than some take the desperate choice of trying to flee to countries that they no doubt realise don't want them.

So far this year, some 36,000 Africans have reached Yemen by crossing by sea from northern Somalia, and the UNHCR is expecting a sharp increase in the number of Somalis seeking refuge in Yemen in the coming weeks due to a worsening security situation in the Somali capital, Mogadishu. In the rest of Somalia, thousands of internally displaced people are facing a food crisis as food shipments have been disrupted the civil war.

And to if that wasn't bad enough, Yemen faces its own humanitarian crisis, with aid officials warning of the threats of dehydration, malaria and diarrhoea in northern Yemen’s refugee camps. These camps house thousands of displaced highlanders escaping the fighting between government forces and Houthi guerrillas that has forced more than 35,000 tribespeople from their homes across the rugged, mountainous terrain around Sa’ada city in the past two weeks.

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