Yemen's coast guards rescue boat people; six still missing

News Stories, 13 August 2008

© UNHCR/A.Fazzina
A group of Ethiopians arrives in Yemen at sunrise after spending two days crossing the Gulf of Aden. Many don't survive the perilous trip in rough waters on poorly-maintained smugglers' boats.

MAYFA'A, Yemen, August 13 (UNHCR) Six people are missing after a mishap in the Gulf of Aden last weekend involving a smuggler's boat operating off-season despite the rough seas. This raises concerns that the human smuggling season could be starting earlier and in higher numbers than before.

Last Saturday, UNHCR's staff in Mayfa'a reception centre in south Yemen reported that a fishing boat carrying about 175 people was stranded in deep water after it broke down while approaching the Mayfa'a Hager coast from Marera village near Bossaso on the northern tip of Somalia. Some were rescued by fishermen while another group managed to leave on a smaller boat and reach the coast through heavy storms and choppy seas. Upon arrival they alerted UNHCR's local partner, Society for Humanitarian Solidarity (SHS).

The Yemeni Coast Guard was immediately informed and together with SHS, a field team was deployed in three boats to rescue the stranded passengers. The first attempt took place late on Saturday night, but was not successful because of the atrocious weather. A second attempt at dawn on Sunday led to the rescue of more people. Survivors reported that six passengers were still missing.

All rescued people were transferred to Mayfa'a reception centre, where they are being assisted by UNHCR and its partners, and provided with food, blankets, shelter and medical care.

The weekend incident marks the end of a brief lull over the summer, when bad weather traditionally prevents human smugglers from operating in the gulf. In the last week alone, nine boats have brought more than 458 people, mainly Somalis and Ethiopians, to the coast of Yemen.

"This is a steep increase from 2007 and the numbers will continue to rise," said Myra Sabongi, UNHCR's Protection Officer in Aden. "We are not even half way through August, but the number of arrivals is already significantly higher than for the entire month of August 2007. Similarly, this July, more than 233 people arrived to the shore, compared to 57 during the same month in 2007."

So far this year, more than 22,532 people have made the perilous Gulf of Aden crossing aboard smugglers' boats. More than 165 people have died trying to make the voyage this year and 220 are missing.

UNHCR and other international agencies have been jointly calling for global action to better address the challenges. Over the past year, the refugee agency has massively stepped up its work in Yemen and appealed for over $17 million to provide for additional staff, better assistance, provision of additional shelter for refugees in Kharaz refugee camp and training programmes for the coastguard and other officials. UNHCR has also enhanced its presence along the coast and opened an additional reception centre earlier this year.

In April, a regional conference was convened by UNHCR in cooperation with the Mixed Migration Task Force for Somalia to establish a regional mechanism and long term plan of action on refugee protection and mixed migration in the Gulf of Aden. The mixed flow of people across the Gulf of Yemen includes a significant number of refugees.

"Yemen has carried a major burden in dealing with irregular migratory movements in the region, yet has maintained an open-door policy to refugees," said Claire Bourgeois, UNHCR's Representative in Yemen. "Support from the international community however remains an absolute necessity."




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Rescue at Sea

A guide to principles and practice as applied to migrants and refugees.

Crossing the Gulf of Aden

Every year thousands of people in the Horn of Africa - mainly Somalis and Ethiopians - leave their homes out of fear or pure despair, in search of safety or a better life. They make their way over dangerous Somali roads to Bossaso in the northern semi-autonomous region of Puntland.

In this lawless area, smuggler networks have free reign and innocent and desperate civilians pay up to US$150 to make the perilous trip across the Gulf of Aden.

Some stay weeks on end in safe houses or temporary homes in Bossaso before they can depart. A sudden call and a departure in the middle of the night, crammed in small unstable boats. At sea, anything can happen to them - they are at the whim of smugglers. Some people get beaten, stabbed, killed and thrown overboard. Others drown before arriving on the beaches of Yemen, which have become the burial ground for hundreds who many of those who died en route.

Crossing the Gulf of Aden


In February 2005, one of the last groups of Somalilander refugees to leave Aisha refugee camp in eastern Ethiopia boarded a UNHCR convoy and headed home to Harrirad in North-west Somalia - the self-declared independent state of Somaliland. Two years ago Harrirad was a tiny, sleepy village with only 67 buildings, but today more than 1,000 people live there, nearly all of whom are former refugees rebuilding their lives.

As the refugees flow back into Somalia, UNHCR plans to close Aisha camp by the middle of the year. The few remaining refugees in Aisha - who come from southern Somalia - will most likely be moved to the last eastern camp, Kebribeyah, already home to more than 10,000 refugees who cannot go home to Mogadishu and other areas in southern Somalia because of continuing lawlessness there. So far refugees have been returning to only two areas of the country - Somaliland and Puntland in the north-east.


Flood Airdrop in Kenya

Over the weekend, UNHCR with the help of the US military began an emergency airdrop of some 200 tonnes of relief supplies for thousands of refugees badly hit by massive flooding in the Dadaab refugee camps in northern Kenya.

In a spectacular sight, 16 tonnes of plastic sheeting, mosquito nets, tents and blankets, were dropped on each run from the C-130 transport plane onto a site cleared of animals and people. Refugees loaded the supplies on trucks to take to the camps.

Dadaab, a three-camp complex hosting some 160,000 refugees, mainly from Somalia, has been cut off from the world for a month by heavy rains that washed away the road connecting the remote camps to the Kenyan capital, Nairobi. Air transport is the only way to get supplies into the camps.

UNHCR has moved 7,000 refugees from Ifo camp, worst affected by the flooding, to Hagadera camp, some 20 km away. A further 7,000 refugees have been moved to higher ground at a new site, called Ifo 2.

Posted in December 2006

Flood Airdrop in Kenya

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