Dozens dead or missing in Gulf of Aden; boat people figures rise

News Stories, 4 November 2008

© UNHCR/A.Fazzina
An exhausted, soaking woman on a Yemeni beach thankful that she is alive after having to swim the last mile of her journey across the Gulf of Aden.

GENEVA, November 4 (UNHCR) Amid reports that at least 12 people drowned at the weekend in the Gulf of Aden, the UN refugee agency announced Tuesday that the number of refugees and migrants crossing the Gulf and the Mediterranean by sea in the first 10 months of 2008 is higher than the total for the whole of last year.

UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond told journalists in Geneva that up to 40 people on a boat carrying 115 desperate people mainly Ethiopians and Somalis, including some women and children across the Gulf from Somalia were forced overboard on Sunday in deep water off the coast of Yemen.

"Twelve bodies have so far washed up on the beach in Alam and 28 remain missing. The remaining 75 boat people survived and have arrived in UNHCR's Ahwar reception centre, where they are receiving help," he said, adding that one person died in Ahwar as a result of severe injuries inflicted by the smugglers. Others were being treated for head wounds and other injuries.

Survivors said that as the boat was within sight of the Yemeni coast, but still in deep water, the smugglers demanded more money from all passengers, who had already paid US$100 each prior to departure. Those who did not or could not pay extra were severely beaten by the smugglers and up to 40 mainly Ethiopians thrown overboard despite their pleas for mercy.

Meanwhile, Redmond said that the number of refugees and migrants crossing the Mediterranean and the Gulf of Aden this year had already exceeded totals for all of 2007 in several areas.

According to UNHCR estimates based on official and unofficial sources, nearly 30,000 boat people arrived on Italian shores by the end of October this year, compared to 19,900 during the whole of 2007. At the same time, the number of people reported dead or missing at sea on their way to Italy or Malta in the first 10 months of 2008 (509) is already higher than the total for last year (471).

In Malta, close to 2,600 boat people arrived in the first nine months of the year from North Africa, compared to 1,800 in the whole of 2007.

In the case of Greece, figures are available only for the first seven months of 2008, but they show the same trend as in Italy and Malta. An estimated 15,000 people arrived in the Greek mainland or islands in the Aegean Sea between January and July, compared with 19,900 during the whole of 2007.

Arrivals in mainland Spain and the Canary Islands [via the eastern Atlantic] up to the end of October (10,700) are also higher than during the same period last year (9,100), but still lower than during the whole of 2007 (18,000).

The number of refugees in these mixed movements of people, which also include economic migrants, varies widely from country to country and at different times of the year. In the case of Italy, one-third of those arriving irregularly by sea last year applied for asylum (some 7,000 people). On average, almost half of all asylum applicants in Italy are recognized as refugees or granted some other form of protection.

In Malta, roughly 80 percent of those arriving by sea apply for asylum and nearly 60 percent of them, on average, are recognized to be in need of international protection. They receive either refugee status or another form of protection. In contrast to those reaching Italy or Malta, only around 3 percent of boat people reaching Spanish shores apply for asylum.

In addition to the Mediterranean, UNHCR has been drawing attention for some time to the humanitarian crisis in the Gulf of Aden, where every year tens of thousands of people flee the Horn of Africa a region scarred by civil war, political instability, famine and poverty in search of protection in Yemen or further afield.

During the first ten months of 2008, more than 38,000 people made the dangerous crossing by boat from Somalia to Yemen. This represents a considerable increase from the 29,500 who made the same journey during the whole of last year. More than 600 people have been reported dead or missing so far this year in the Gulf. Last year, the death toll reached 1,400.

In 2007, an estimated two-thirds of those who reached Yemen alive sought assistance from UNHCR. Yemen has for years accepted Somalis as refugees on a prima facie basis, but access to refugee protection has been more difficult for asylum seekers from Ethiopia.

UNHCR is beefing up its response by improving reception conditions for those who manage to reach Yemen and, at the same time, improving the living conditions of people with protection needs in the Horn of Africa so that they do not need to risk their lives by crossing into Yemen.

Meanwhile, UNHCR and its partners are set to discuss mixed migration issues, including irregular crossings of the Gulf of Aden, Mediterranean and eastern Atlantic, during a meeting next week in Dakar, Senegal. UNHCR has developed a 10-Point Plan of Action on Refugee Protection and Mixed Migration that sets out a number of areas where the agency believes initiatives are called for and where it can contribute some expertise.

By Hélène Caux and William Spindler in Geneva

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Beyond the Border

In 2010, the Turkish border with Greece became the main entry point for people attempting by irregular methods to reach member states of the European Union, with over 132,000 arrivals. While some entered as migrants with the simple wish of finding a better life, a significant number fled violence or persecution in countries such as Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iraq and Somalia. The journey is perilous, with many reports of drowning when people board flimsy vessels and try to cross the Mediterranean Sea or the River Evros on the border between Greece and Turkey. The many deficiencies in the Greek asylum system are exacerbated by the pressure of tens of thousands of people awaiting asylum hearings. Reception facilities for new arrivals, including asylum-seekers, are woefully inadequate. Last year, UNHCR visited a number of overcrowded facilities where children, men and women were detained in cramped rooms with insufficient facilities. UNHCR is working with the Greek government to improve its asylum system and has called upon other European states to offer support.

Beyond the Border

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

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