Gulf of Aden crossings soar in August over year earlier

News Stories, 9 September 2008

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.




UNHCR country pages

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

Somalia: UN High Commissioner For Refugees In MogadishuPlay video

Somalia: UN High Commissioner For Refugees In Mogadishu

UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres visits Mogadishu, expresses solidarity with Somali people on eve of Ramadan.
Somalia: Solutions For Somali RefugeesPlay video

Somalia: Solutions For Somali Refugees

In Kenya, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres discusses solutions for Somali refugees.
Somalia: Saving LivesPlay video

Somalia: Saving Lives

Donor support for a specialized maternity-child clinic helps save the lives of displaced Somali mothers.