UNHCR and BBC team up to warn people about Gulf of Aden risks

The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and its partners have joined forces to warn thousands of people about the dangers they face by crossing the perilous sea waves that separate the Horn of Africa from Yemen. Every year tens of thousands of people, mainly Ethiopians and Somalis fleeing poverty or conflict and persecution, pay smugglers to ferry them across the Gulf of Aden to the Yemeni coast. Many never make it, drowning or dying from beatings, shark attacks and other dangers. So far this year, around 300 people have drowned or are missing at sea and presumed dead.

The UN refugee agency has long been trying to spread awareness about the dangers, but people still keep making the perilous crossing. In a bid to reach a wide audience, UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) have teamed up with the BBC World Service Trust to air a weekly radio broadcast about the risks.

The first 30-minute “Lifeline” programme was broadcast last Saturday on the BBC’s Somali service. It will become a weekly feature over the next six months, when the Gulf of Aden sailing season is at its height. Aside from awareness material, the Saturday afternoon programme will also carry general information of interest to migrants and asylum-seekers.

Put together by the BBC World Service Trust with the help of migration experts from UNHCR, IOM and other agencies, the programme will help people make an informed decision about whether or not to cross the Gulf or to seek asylum in neighbouring countries.

In a country where literacy is low and national TV and newspapers non-existent, radio is one of the best ways to reach out to the population as many people have access to a radio set.

UNHCR also hopes the BBC programme will sensitize host communities in Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya and Yemen about the plight of migrants and asylum-seekers and the reasons that lead to their flight.