At least 26 people dead in Gulf of Aden smuggling incident

News Stories, 10 September 2008

© UNHCR/A.Fazzina
The death of at least 26 people in one incident in the Gulf of Aden this week highlights the dangers of crossing from the Horn of Africa to Yemen on smugglers' boats. But this does not deter people, who continue to line up for boats on the Somali coast.

AHWAR, Yemen, September 10 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency reported on Wednesday that at least 26 people lost their lives after smugglers transporting them across the Gulf of Aden from the Horn of Africa forced them overboard off the coast of Yemen. Several other people are missing.

A UNHCR press release cited survivors as saying that a boat carrying about 120 people stopped offshore in deep water on Tuesday and all passengers were forced overboard at gunpoint.

"They said those who refused were pushed and beaten. Some were killed. Survivors said they had earlier been assured by the smugglers that a smaller vessel would take them ashore, but none arrived," the release said.

At least 74 survivors made it to the beach and were taken to UNHCR's reception centre at Ahwar. Authorities said Wednesday morning that 26 bodies had so far been recovered and 20 people were still missing.

The latest tragedy coincides with an upsurge in people smuggling across the Gulf of Aden from strife-torn Somalia. So far this year, at least 25,859 people have arrived in Yemen after making the perilous voyage aboard smugglers' boats. More than 200 have died and at least 225 remain missing. At the same time last year, there were 9,153 arrivals, 267 dead and 118 missing.

Smuggling normally subsides between May and September because of stormy weather in the Gulf of Aden. With the early onset of calmer weather in August, smuggling resumed last month when 59 boats brought more than 1,700 desperate people to Yemen nearly triple the number of arrivals for the same month last year when 633 people landed in 10 boats.

In late August, 12 people died from one boat, eight of them after jumping into the sea when a gunbattle erupted between the Yemeni military and smugglers near the coast.

Numerous smugglers' boats were reported off the Yemen coast again on Wednesday, the statement said, adding: "UNHCR believes several factors are responsible for the recent increase in arrivals, including continuing strife and displacement in Somalia and the opening of new smuggling routes across the Gulf of Aden."

Smugglers are also believed to be attempting to take advantage of a perceived decline in coastal surveillance during Ramadan, the Islamic holy fasting month which began in early September.

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

Its US$18.9 million programme in Yemen currently a little more than half funded 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.

The agency has also increased its presence along the remote Yemeni coast with the opening of its second reception centre at Ahwar. The other is at Mayfa'a.

In May, a regional conference was co-convened by UNHCR 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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Rescue at Sea

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

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.

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The Gulf of Aden: Sharp Rise in Crossings and Deaths

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