SOMALIA: Puntland cracks down as potential migrants gather in Bosasso
NAIROBI, 28 September (IRIN) - The authorities of Somalia's self-declared autonomous region of Puntland have begun cracking down on would-be migrants and people smugglers, who have been using its ports to reach the Gulf States, a senior police officer told IRIN.
He said thousands of Somalis and Ethiopians had gathered in Bosasso, the commercial capital, with the aim of attempting to cross the Gulf of Aden into Yemen.
"We estimate there are between 3,000 and 5,000 migrants currently in and around Bosasso," said Col Osman Hassan Awke, the Bari regional police chief.
He said security units had taken over some of the beach ports used by smugglers to pick up migrants.
"Marere beach [10km south of Bosasso], which was one of the main ports used by smugglers, is now a police post," Awke said, adding that despite the police effort in Puntland to stem the flow of migrants, "they still continue. We shut down one or two known ports and then they find another one."
He said the police would continue to set up posts on "most of the important beaches". However, he said the police did not have the means to stop the smuggling completely, without help from the international community.
According to the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, a total of 924 boats and more than 46,700 people have made the journey to Yemen from the Horn of Africa since January.
"So far this year, 322 are known to have drowned or went missing at sea and are presumed dead," Roberta Russo, spokeswoman for UNHCR Somalia, told IRIN on 28 September.
A local journalist, who requested anonymity, told IRIN the region's authorities had in the past tried to stem the migrant flow without success.
"They even tried to repatriate them to their homes in Ethiopia or southern Somalia but it did not work," the journalist said.
He said many migrants simply returned: "These are desperate people and no matter what, they will get on the boats if they want to."
Awke said the police had stopped repatriating migrants because "as soon as we send them they are back, and we don't have the resources to keep sending them back".
He claimed aid agencies were not doing enough to help with the situation, adding that there was not even an official camp to host the migrants. "They are all over the place, which makes policing them that much more difficult."
However, Russo said: "In 2006 there was an attempt to create a camp for the migrants, but the initiative failed as, instead of protecting its inhabitants, the camp became a breeding ground for all kinds of violations."
In 2009, the agencies and authorities reconsidered the option of opening a camp but abandoned the idea.
Russo added that UNHCR and its partners were distributing information on the dangers of crossing the Gulf of Aden and the options for migrants and asylum seekers.
The journalist said Puntland had a long coastline and would be hard-pressed to police it. "They [the authorities] don't have the resources to effectively patrol it."
Smugglers were reportedly charging each migrant US$150 to $200 for the trip to Yemen, said the journalist. "Many migrants will have to work for over a year to make that kind of money."