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Last Updated: Saturday, 10 September 2005, 01:07 GMT 02:07 UK
UN call to save Somali migrants
By Imogen Foulkes
BBC News, Geneva

Somali refugees (archive)
Lawlessness and poverty drive many Somalis to flee
The United Nations has called for urgent action to save the lives of asylum-seekers and migrants trying to flee Somalia on unsafe boats to Yemen.

The UN high commissioner for refugees said the world could not stand by while hundreds, even thousands, risked their lives at the hands of smugglers.

Antonio Guterres' call comes after three weeks in which at least 150 died in the Gulf of Aden.

Some of them were apparently forced to jump overboard.

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) says the rising death toll at sea has taken on the dimensions of a humanitarian crisis.

In the latest incident, two boats operated by smugglers were stopped by Yemeni coastguards and 120 people were found on board.

All were suffering serious thirst and hunger, many had been severely beaten.

Ten bodies were found in the engine room, two with their hands tied behind their backs. A further two people died after being taken ashore.

Act of compassion

And this is just the most recent case.

On Thursday, a Danish merchant ship rescued 39 Somalis who had been adrift for several days.

The refugee agency praised the ship's crew for their compassion and their adherence to international law.

Other vessels apparently saw the asylum-seekers but did not stop.

And the agency fears many deaths go unreported.

The UN is calling on the international community to crack down on smugglers and it is calling on shipping companies to keep an eye out for those in distress.

On Monday, the agency will host a two-day meeting in Athens on interception and rescue at sea in the Mediterranean.

The aim is to bring together experts from most Mediterranean countries as well as representatives from the shipping industry and international organisations to discuss how to reconcile migration controls with refugee protection.

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