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“Smuggling and trafficking in innocent Somalis must stop,” says UN Expert after new boat disaster in Gulf Aden

Somali boat people plight

14 February 2012

GENEVA (14 February 2012) – The UN Independent Expert on the situation of Human Rights in Somalia, Shamsul Bari, today expressed deep shock over a new boat disaster in the Gulf of Aden that claimed the life of at least 11 Somali people while another are still 34 missing.

“Smuggling and trafficking in persons in Somalia has been a sad facet of the Somali conflict,” said Mr. Bari, who reported extensively on the plight of Somali boat people in a 2009 report* to the Human Rights Council. “This must stop and come to an end.”

“Such tragedy highlights the critical need to find a lasting and sustainable peace in Somalia so that people can live in a decent manner at home and are not forced to flee constantly their country to save their lives,” the human rights expert stressed. “To that end, I urge the Somali authorities at the national and sub-national level to work in close cooperation with the international community, including the United Nations.”

Survivors found on Somali beaches last week explained that their boat, crewed by three smugglers and carrying 58 passengers, had set sail for Yemen. They also recounted to local authorities how smugglers forced 22 passengers overboard soon after the engine failed.

“I have also received alarming reports about the violence faced by Somalis at the hands of the local population in transit countries. And, I am concerned about reports of attacks against Somalis and prolonged administrative detention in host countries,” Mr. Bari said.

“The upcoming London conference will focus the world's attention on Somalia,” the rights expert noted. “As we try to address the suffering of Somalis inside the country, I would like to remind all transit and host countries of their legal and humanitarian obligation to guarantee the safety and dignity of Somali refugees.”

The Independent Expert also called on the international community to strengthen the capacity of the Somali authorities, in particular the Puntland Marine forces, while commending the of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and other partners “in raising awareness about the dangers of the perilous journey.”

“I offer my heartfelt condolences and my grievances to the deceased families and of those injured and who are suffering from skin burns caused by fuel inside the
boat,” Mr. Bari said

(*) Check the Independent Expert’s report:

Extracts from the report:

“In my long career as a UNHCR official before my retirement some 10 years ago, I have dealt with many painful humanitarian situations. My memories of the suffering of the Vietnamese boat people are still fresh. But what I heard about the traumatic experiences of men, women and children who crossed the Gulf of Aden in over-crowded fishing boats for safety to Yemen has overshadowed those memories."

"Listening to them was a painful experience. They demonstrated for me how they were made to sit in rows on a small boat, pressing their knees onto their chests, with no space to move around during the entire trip. The total ban on movement on board is also imposed to ensure safety since any abrupt movement may unbalance the boat and cause it to capsize. In the absence of any other alternative, the passengers had to meet the calls of nature while seated at the same place. The trip lasts an average of 36 hours. It was difficult for me to imagine how more than 100 persons in an overcrowded boat, not fit to accommodate even half that number, are able to survive such a choppy ride, mostly in total darkness of the night. I was told that most of the people arriving after such unhygienic, sardine-like rides develop severe skin diseases and have to remain prone on the beach to slowly regain their ability to stretch their legs out."

"Apart from conditions on the boats, the journey itself is very treacherous because of rough sea conditions. Many perish at sea when their boats capsize. Many others are thrown overboard by ruthless crew if there are differences of opinions or other altercations between them and the passengers, if the passengers disobey their orders, if the boat is deemed to be excessively crowded under given circumstances, or if their children cry or make noises that may draw attention of patrol boats nearby. Many are pushed overboard near the Yemeni shores because of fear by the smugglers of being caught by patrol boats.”

Dr. Shamsul Bari (Bangladesh) was appointed Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Somalia by the United Nations Human Rights Council in May 2008. He is independent from any government or organization and serves in his individual capacity.

OHCHR Country Page – Somalia:

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