10 July 2007The United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR) has used a halt in the annual flow of Somali boatpeople travelling across the Gulf of Aden to Yemen to draw attention to their plight and call for more action to help those who endure such harsh journeys. The United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR) has used a halt in the annual flow of Somali boatpeople travelling across the Gulf of Aden to Yemen to draw attention to their plight and call for more action to help those who endure such harsh journeys.UNHCR Jennifer Pagonis told reporters today in Geneva that the flow across the Gulf of Aden “to seek safety or a better life has temporarily halted because seas are too rough to make the crossing in July and August.”Still, each year between September and the following June, “irregular travel to Yemen has also become increasingly difficult as a result of increased crackdowns on smugglers in Somalia’s Bosaso region and heightened security patrols along the Yemen coastline,” she said.For those refugees who do secure a trip, the risks of death or sickness have increased. Because of a need to find new routes, trips are more indirect and take around three days rather than the regular two.The treatment of the refugees by smugglers who have managed to remain active despite the crackdown is increasingly horrendous, Ms. Pagonis noted. After paying $50, many refugees are forced to disembark while still in deep water, where most are then beaten with clubs, drown or are attacked by sharks.The solution lies not only in cracking down on smugglers, but on tackling the root causes of persecution, poverty and conflict that drive so many people to leave their homes and risk such perilous sea journeys, Ms. Pagonis said.Countries receiving migrants should have more help in managing the inflows so that people who need protection can get it and those who do not can return home safely.She stressed that anyone in distress at sea should be rescued, allowed to disembark and given access to proper screening procedures upon arrival.For the first six months of this year, UNHCR has recorded the arrival of 77 smuggling boats carrying more than 8,600 refugees, asylum seekers and migrants, mainly Somalis and Ethiopians, across the Gulf of Aden.Although these figures are below those equivalent statistics from the first half of 2006, when over 11,700 people made the journey, the trip has become more deadly: at least 367 people have been killed so far this year, compared to 266 for the same period last year.Ms. Pagonis added that while smuggling in the Gulf of Aden has come to a temporary seasonal halt, it has started again in the Mediterranean Sea.“UNHCR has repeatedly expressed its concerns about the situation in the Gulf of Aden, the Mediterranean and other waters, as some of those who risk their lives making such crossing are refugees and asylum seekers,” she said. The number of irregular arrivals into Italy fell by 31 per cent compared to the first six months of last year, but in June alone 200 people were reported dead or missing reported in the Strait of Sicily.Last year UNHCR presented a Ten-Point Plan of Action on Refugee Protection and Mixed Migration that sets out a number of measures to assist States in dealing with the issue.
Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson says key development issues such as tackling food security and fighting poverty, as well as the crisis in Syria, will feature high on his agenda at the United Nations. “As Deputy Secretary-General I will of course focus on what the SG [Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon] wants me to work with. But I will probably focus most on two areas: development – and we face some very serious challenges in this area – and secondly, political issues,” Mr. Eliasson said in an interview with the UN News Centre. “On development, it’s such a wide range of areas, but the most urgent […] issue is the food security crisis,” he added. “We are expecting price increases of food all over the world in the next 4-5 months.” The veteran Swedish diplomat, who took up his post in July, is no stranger to the Organization, having served in a number of UN positions, including Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, President of the General Assembly and Special Envoy for Darfur. “The United Nations has always been very close to my heart,” said Mr. Eliasson. “I believe in the values and principles of the United Nations. We are often criticized but I think we are a reflection of the world as it is and not as we want it to be – but we have to bridge that gap, make sure the world becomes more of what we want it to be.” Among the areas where there is still much work to be done, the Deputy Secretary-General cited the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – specific targets on poverty alleviation, education, gender equality, child and maternal health, environmental stability, HIV/AIDS reduction, and a ‘Global Partnership for Development’ that world leaders have pledged to achieve by 2015. Last month Mr. Ban announced the members of a high-level panel he set up to present recommendations on a global post-2015 agenda with shared responsibilities for all countries and with the fight against poverty and sustainable development at its core. There were many crises to deal with on the political front, Mr. Eliasson noted. “The most dramatic one, the most internationally recognized one is, of course, Syria, where we are dealing with very serious matters, providing hopefully a peaceful alternative to the horrible fighting that goes on now, and the suffering that goes on now, with huge humanitarian consequences.” Syria has been wracked by violence, with an estimated 17,000 people, mostly civilians, killed since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began some 17 months ago. Over the past month, there have been reports of an escalation in violence in many towns and villages, as well as the country’s two biggest cities, Damascus and Aleppo. Other issues of concern, he said, include the tensions in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and the humanitarian crisis in the Sahel, along with the conflict in northern Mali.