Bosaso, 12 March 2010 (Somalilandpress) – In an attempt to deal with a growing influx of migrants, authorities in Somalia’s autonomous region of Puntland are adopting new measures to stop people from undertaking the hazardous journey to Yemen, officials said.

“The problem of migrants is not going away and the Puntland authorities, particularly in the Bari region [Bosasso area], had to come up with a new strategy to deal with this problem,” said Mohamud Jama Muse, director of the Migration Response Centre (MRC) in the regional capital, Bosasso.

MRC was created in April 2009, under the office of the Bari governor, to “register and provide counselling and assist” the migrants. Between April and December 2009, it registered 7,223 persons.

“This number is smaller than the actual number,” Muse told IRIN on 1 March. “You have to understand, a lot of these people are not very trusting of authorities, so they never bother registering.”

According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), 78,487 Ethiopians and Somalis crossed into Yemen from Somalia and Djibouti in 2009, of whom 685 died.

So far in 2010, 5,032 have crossed and four have died, said Roberta Russo, spokeswoman for UNHCR Somalia.

Learning to fish

Muse said the government had adopted a two-track approach. Apart from the MRC, security forces had cracked down on smugglers and closed the ports from which they operate.

“With the help of IOM [International Organization for Migration] we started a pilot project with a local NGO, Red Sea Fishing Organization [RESFO], in skills training and income generation, for 100 migrants and locals to teach them skills to make a living,” he explained.

The group is taught how to fish, process the catch, repair nets and keep books.

“We are even teaching some of them to swim,” said Mohamed Said of RESFO. “The aim is to provide an alternative to boarding those boats [to Yemen].”

The project aims to integrate the migrants into the community, said Ahmed Muse Mohamed, IOM officer-in-charge in Bosasso. “We want to create opportunities here for them so they don’t have to go on these dangerous journeys,” he added.

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Too weak to walk

“By the time they reach us they have walked over 1,000km and are dehydrated and almost starving,” said Muse, and reports indicated some died on the way to Bosasso.

Abdi, not his real name, came from Ethiopia four months ago. He walked 760km to reach Bosasso, with the aim of going to Yemen.

He and six others had to avoid being stopped by security forces or attacked by bandits. “It is not a trip I would want to make again,” he said. “It was too difficult and dangerous. By the time I arrived I was so weak I could barely walk.”

He has registered with MRC but has not started the training yet.

Addis Tolosa, 30, an Ethiopian migrant who has been in Bosasso for a couple of years, went to Yemen but was intercepted by the Yemeni coastguard and returned to Bosasso.

He is now being trained by RESFO. “I don’t have the means to go back [to Yemen] so I am now in this training to learn how to earn a living,” said. “As soon we finish the training I will get fishing gear and go to work.”

Some locals, however, insisted they would still like to go to Yemen.

Mohamed Hassan Shire, 23, from the coastal town of Kismayo, 2,000km south, arrived in Bosasso six months ago. He said he left out of fear he would be forcibly recruited into a militia.

“I came here because I was not safe in Kismayo,” he said. “People I knew died trying to get there [Yemen]. I know also that what I am doing is like flipping a coin, but I will try it. I have no other option.”

More help needed

The former Puntland Bari Governor Muse Ghelle (replaced on 6 March) told IRIN he was determined to help the potential migrants. “With the very little resources we have we are trying but we need help,” he added.

He called on the international community to increase its support to Puntland to help it deal with the growing influx of migrants.

Puntland would not be able to cope on its own. “We need more meaningful help from the donor community,” he said.

Muse of MRC said the migrants needed emergency food upon arrival, temporary shelter, a health centre and a reception centre to receive them.

“Most of these people are economic migrants and when they come here they have exhausted what little they had, so it is important to at least have somewhere where they can get some help immediately.”

Source: IRIN