Photos: Fleeing Somalia

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  1. Yemeni coast guard ship navigates through Aden Harbor. More than 50,000 people - mostly Somalis - made the perilous journey across the Gulf of Aden in smuggling boats to reach Yemen in 2008, according to the U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR. At least 590 people drowned and another 359 were reported missing. The Yemeni coast guard is overwhelmed and underequipped to deal with Somali smugglers of refugees and illegal goods, as well as pirates along the long coast line. (Jiro Ose / Redux Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. A boat of newly arrived refugees reaches the Yemeni shore after being rescued by local fishermen while crossing the Gulf of Aden on Dec. 1, 2008. The man in the foreground was not as fortunate, he drowned after being thrown into the sea by ruthless smugglers the night before. Despite the risky journey, the number of Somali refugees arriving in Yemen in 2008 increased by 70 percent over 2007, according to the UNHCR. (Jiro Ose / Redux Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. A newly arrived refugee hydrates himself near the Yemeni town of Ahwar after crossing the Gulf of Aden on Dec. 1, 2008. The refugees, mostly from Somalia, risk their lives in the dangerous trip across the Gulf of Aden in order to flee war and extreme poverty at home. The refugees are given first aid, food, water and a complete medical examination by Doctors Without Borders when they reach the Yemeni shore. (Jiro Ose / Redux Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Local fishermen rescue refugees clinging to a reef after crossing the Gulf of Aden and arriving near the town of Afwar, on the Yemeni coast. Despite the perilous gulf crossing, more Somalis are being driven to flee the chaos in their own country. Somalia has not had an effective central government since 1991 and years of fighting between rival warlords has created one of the world's worst humanitarian crisis. (Jiro Ose / Redux Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Fadua Ibrahim Haj Mohamed walks along the Yemeni beach she just reached after fleeing Ethiopia in search of her older sister on Dec. 1, 2008. She carried Riyadh Mukhter Sutlan, the 17-month-old son of her missing sister. After a lengthy and fearful search, the sisters were later reunited. (Jiro Ose / Redux Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Yemen offers a favorable legal environment for Somalis - they are automatically recognized as refugees on the basis of a "prima facie" or "at first view" policy and have the right to work and move freely around the country. Still, Yemen is one of the poorest countries in the world and there is little economic opportunity for the new arrivals. After being given food, water and dry clothing, refugees cross dunes to go to a UNHCR refugee center near the Yemeni town of Ahwar. (Jiro Ose / Redux Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Women who just landed on Yemen's shores are transported to a refugee center near the village of Bir Ali at the end of November 2008. (Jiro Ose / Redux Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. A refugee tries to regain his strength by eating a fortified biscuit at a UNHCR refugee center a day after suriving the dangerous sea crossing from Somalia. The UNHCR estimates that approximately 100,000 Somalis currently live in Yemen. (Jiro Ose / Redux Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. A nurse dispenses medicine to a newly arrived Somali refugee in Maifa, Yemen on Nov. 26, 2008. (Jiro Ose / Redux Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. A Somali refugee recuperates from her dangerous journey by hanging wet clothing out to dry at a refugee center on the Yemeni coast. By the end of April 2009, nearly 400 boats and 20,000 people had already arrived in Yemen after crossing the Gulf of Aden, according to the UNHCR. And at least 131 people died while making the desperate journey. (Jiro Ose / Redux Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
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updated 7/28/2009 2:45:32 PM ET 2009-07-28T18:45:32

Thousands of Somalis fleeing fighting around the capital have massed in a northern town, trying to cross the Gulf of Aden and sneak into Yemen, the U.N. refugee agency said Tuesday.

The exodus comes as the country's beleaguered president prepares for a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton next week.

The UNHCR said nearly a quarter of a million Somalis had fled their homes since May 7, when newly unified Islamist insurgents launched a concerted attack on Mogadishu, the capital. The U.S. State Department says some of the insurgent leaders have links to al-Qaida.

Up to 12,000 civilians have taken shelter in the northern town of Bossasso, the base where smugglers take them across the perilous waters of the Gulf to Yemen, UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond told reporters in Geneva.

Some 30,000 Somalis have already made the crossing this year but more than 300 people have died or gone missing in the process.

'Willing to risk their lives'
Redmond said aid agencies were fighting "a losing battle" trying to persuade Somalis not to go on the dangerous journey, where deaths from drownings, shootings, hunger or dehydration are common.

"These people are obviously reaching the end of their rope. They see no future in Somalia and many of them are so desperate that they're willing to risk their lives and the lives of their families to escape," he said.

Redmond's comments come a day after the Somali parliament held its first meeting since May in war-ravaged Mogadishu. Analysts said it showed that the U.N.-backed government was confident enough of holding key military positions in the city to focus on issues of government.

"For the past two months all the government's attention was focused on fighting," said Mohamud Nor Ahmed, a lecturer at Mogadishu University. "Last week the prime minister ... named a security minister, and now parliament has met, I can say they are refocusing on their internal affairs rather than the endless war."

U.S. meeting to be in Kenya
Clinton and Somali President Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed meet next week in Nairobi, Kenya — a site chosen for security reasons. They are expected to discuss Somalia's rising piracy and possible links between al-Qaida and Somali insurgents.

The current government holds only a few blocks of Mogadishu, with support from African Union peacekeepers and shipments of weapons from countries including the United States. But the government still controls the port, the airport and key government buildings, territory the Islamists have tried desperately to wrest away.

Fighting continued Monday south of the city, but Speaker Sheik Aden Mohamed Nor said Parliament would not tolerate insecurity as an excuse for absence. He sacked five out of the 550 legislators for absences without a reason and for criticizing the government.

Other absent lawmakers had valid reasons, he said, and parliament reached its two-thirds quorum.

The impoverished Horn of Africa nation has not had a functioning government since clan leaders overthrew a socialist dictator in 1991 then turned on each other. Since then, clan rivalry has been complicated by sectarian tensions, the emergence of strong criminal gangs and the involvement of other countries.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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