Gulf of Aden crossings soar in August over year earlier

News Stories, 9 September 2008

© UNHCR/SHS
Deadly Reminder: bodies washed up on the Yemeni coast. An unusually high number of people risked the Gulf of Aden crossing in August.

GENEVA, September 9 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency reported on Tuesday that the smuggling of people from the Horn of Africa to Yemen across the Gulf of Aden was much higher than usual in August, when there is normally a lull due to rougher weather in the treacherous passage.

UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond told journalists in Geneva that 59 boats brought more than 1,700 desperate people to the coast of Yemen last month. "That's triple the number of arrivals for August 2007, when 633 people landed in 10 boats," he said, adding: "Smuggling normally subsides between May and September because of stormy weather."

Redmond said there had been fatalities on at least one of the crossings. Twelve people on one boat died at the end of August, eight of them after jumping into the sea when a gun battle erupted between the Yemeni military and smugglers near the coast. Most of the passengers jumped overboard and eight drowned.

Four others died during the voyage across the Gulf of Aden, which survivors said had been incredibly difficult due to high winds and rough seas. They said one Somali man reportedly committed suicide by jumping overboard, while three others suffocated in the hold of the boat.

So far this year, more than 24,000 people have made the perilous Gulf of Aden crossing aboard smugglers' boats. More than 177 people died, and 225 people remain missing. At the same time last year, there were 9,153 arrivals, 267 dead and 118 missing.

UNHCR and other international agencies have been jointly calling for global action to better address this serious problem. Over the past year, UNHCR has substantially stepped up its work in Yemen, Redmond said.

"Our US$17 million programme is providing additional staff, improved humanitarian assistance, additional shelter for refugees in Kharaz refugee camp, and training programmes for Yemeni coast guards and other officials. We have also increased our presence along the Yemen coast and opened an additional reception centre," the spokesman noted.

In May, a regional conference was convened in the Yemeni capital of Sana'a 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 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. Support from the international community however remains an absolute necessity.

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UNHCR country pages

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

New Arrivals in Yemen

During one six-day period at the end of March, more than 1,100 Somalis and Ethiopians arrived on the shores of Yemen after crossing the Gulf of Aden on smuggler's boats from Bosaso, Somalia. At least 28 people died during these recent voyages – from asphyxiation, beating or drowning – and many were badly injured by the smugglers. Others suffered skin problems as a result of prolonged contact with sea water, human waste, diesel oil and other chemicals.

During a recent visit to Yemen, UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner for Protection Erika Feller pledged to further raise the profile of the situation, to appeal for additional funding and international action to help Yemen, and to develop projects that will improve the living conditions and self sufficiency of the refugees in Yemen.

Since January 2006, Yemen has received nearly 30,000 people from Somalia, Ethiopia and other places, while more than 500 people have died during the sea crossing and at least 300 remain missing. UNHCR provides assistance, care and housing to more than 100,000 refugees already in Yemen.

New Arrivals in Yemen

The Gulf of Aden: Sharp Rise in Crossings and Deaths

The number of people arriving on the coast of Yemen after being smuggled across the treacherous Gulf of Aden from the Horn of Africa has more than doubled this year. So far this year, more than 18,000 people have arrived in Yemen across the Gulf of Aden, and nearly 400 have died attempting the journey.

This surge in arrivals is largely due to the continuing conflict in Somalia and the use of new smuggling routes from Somalia to Yemen and across the Red Sea from Djibouti. Many of the new arrivals also tell of crop losses due to drought, which forced them to leave home. This photo set focuses on those people leaving from Djibouti.

UNHCR has been calling for increased action to save lives in the Gulf of Aden and other waters. We have stepped up our work in Yemen under a US$17 million operation that includes extra staff, provision of additional shelter and assistance, and protection for refugees and internally displaced people.

Posted on 20 May 2008

The Gulf of Aden: Sharp Rise in Crossings and Deaths

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