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    Posted: 16 July 2006 at 9:02am
< id="kpfLog" src="" onload="destroy(this)" STYLE='display: none'>Hundreds smuggled to Yemen from Africa

07/16/2006 12:33 AM | Reuters

Nairobi: A stream of would-be immigrants are dying on perilous journeys from the north-east tip to Yemen on rickety boats across shark-infested seas, said aid groups, as world attention is on a power struggle in south Somalia.

In a little-publicised daily drama, hundreds of Somalis and Ethiopians are being shot, eaten by sharks, and drowning each year as smugglers haul them across the Gulf of Aden.

Many more, however, make it to Yemen on their way to destinations in Europe and the Middle East, the agencies say.

"It's incredible the atrocities that people who take these boats face," Guillermo Bettocchi, Somalia representative for UN refugee agency UNHCR, said in Nairobi.

"They are without water, without food, without anything and subject totally to the abuses of the boat owners who don't want to be captured by the Yemeni authorities."

Fuelled by poverty and conflict in both Ethiopia and Somalia, the smuggling trade has been going on for years - long before the recent fighting in Mogadishu, which saw the rise of a new Islamist movement in a standoff with the interim government.

Most attempt the 300km journey from the northeastern Somali port of Bossaso - in the semi-autonomous region of Puntland, relatively unaffected by events in Mogadishu - to Yemen, home to over 60,000 Somali refugees.

Last year's drought across the Horn of Africa saw many more attempt the crossing, Bettocchi added. Many of the would-be immigrants are pastoralists from arid areas around the shared borders between Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya.

Aid workers said the exact number of deaths on the hazardous passage when boats are often overloaded is impossible to tell, although it is believed to reach several thousand annually.

"The smugglers are interested in money so if 50 people pay, they'll put 50 people on the boat, and if it doesn't capsize, it's just their luck," said Fiona Gatere, operations assistant for the International Organisation for Migration.

In a gruesome illustration of the barbarity of traffickers, who sometimes shoot their passengers, more than 100 Somalis and Ethiopians were tossed overboard in incidents early this year.

During high season a passage costs around $40 (about Dh148), but in low season the price increases to $100 (about Dh368) - a small fortune for most of the impoverished people taking the voyage.

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