, GENEVA, Apr 9 – The exodus of Somalis across the Gulf of Aden slowed in the first three months of this year despite the deadliest fighting in the country since early 2009, the UN refugee agency said Friday.
Displaced people were either unable to get to the departure point for the sea voyage amid a crackdown by local authorities, violence, or because they had no money to pay for the journey, said UNHCR spokeswoman Melissa Fleming.
"We\’re noticing that these flows are slowing down despite ongoing violence," she said.
"The number of people crossing the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea has nearly halved during the first quarter of the year, in comparison with the same period in 2009."
Thousands of Somalis have undertaken the perilous sea crossing to Yemen in crowded smugglers boats in a bid to flee desperate situation of civil war at home.
However, Fleming stressed that the declining trend in the Somali outflow was not because fewer people were being displaced.
"They are just not able to get out of the country," she said.
Between January to March, some 169,000 people were forced to flee their homes in south central Somalia.
Many were however unable to get to Bossaso, the port town in northern Somalia where they can catch a smuggler\’s boat to Yemen.
"They cite general insecurity as the main reason deterring their movements towards the north. In addition, they say that more and more people simply have no means to pay for the trip to Puntland," said Fleming.
Authorities in the north-eastern of Somali state of Puntland also appeared to be cracking down on the human trafficking, she added.
The UNHCR has described the situation in Somalia as one of the "worst humanitarian crises in the world."
Some 1.4 million people are internally displaced in the country while 570,000 Somalis are living as refugees in neighbouring states.