Thursday, October 20, 2011

Sailing to Yemen with human traffickers

From Aljazeera: 

By Glen Johnson

There were more than 30 people crammed on the back of the truck as the vehicle bumped through the desert in eastern Djibouti.

The passengers were men, women and children from Ethiopia and Somalia and myself. And all would be smuggled in boats from Djibouti to Yemen, as part of wider trafficking operations involving six countries - Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Djibouti, Somalia, Ethiopia and Eritrea - that apparently trafficks tens of thousands of people from the Horn of Africa to Arabian nations each year.

I had arrived in Djibouti on June 7 to research human trafficking. Having lived in Yemen for part of 2010, I was aware that the Africa-Arabia smuggling trade was one of the myriad challenges facing Yemen, yet one of the troubled nation's least discussed. In Djibouti, I quickly established links with smugglers, some of whom agreed to let me accompany migrants from Ethiopia and refugees from Somalia by boat to Yemen.

The truck drove slowly through the desert. No one talked. A distant beam from a lighthouse swept across the night sky. The silhouettes of coarse thorn scrubs, bent back from the wind, stood under a yellow moon that was ill-defined from the dust and sand that swept up into the night.

Occasionally the truck would grind to a halt and men would get out swinging sticks wildly, telling the passengers to keep still. A woman spoke to a child - his hair a mass of coarse, black curls; his spindly legs sticking out the bottom of his trousers.

The child was travelling with his brother from Mogadishu, the Somali capital. They hoped to reach Kharaz refugee camp, administered by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), in South Yemen. A place where his brother said: "There is food and a house. They [UNHCR] give money."

According to a 2010 Chatham House report, Yemen and Somalia: Terrorism, Shadow Networks and the Limitations of State-building, the Horn of Africa smuggling trade - based on the number of registered arrivals in Yemen 2009, 77,802, could be worth more than $20m each year.

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