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More than 50,000 people risked perilous Gulf of Aden crossing last year

News Stories, 9 January 2009

© UNHCR/A.Fazzina
A group of civilians wade out to a smuggler's boat on the coast of Somalia ahead of the Gulf of Aden crossing.

GENEVA, January 9 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency announced on Friday that more than 50,000 people made the perilous Gulf of Aden crossing from the Horn of Africa to Yemen last year and almost 600 died in the attempt.

"Final statistics for 2008 from our office in Yemen show that 50,091 people made the perilous voyage in smugglers' boats across the Gulf of Aden last year, and that at least 590 drowned. Another 359 were reported missing," UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond told reporters in Geneva.

"This represents a 70 percent increase in arrivals over the previous year's total of 29,500 who made the journey with Somalia-based smugglers who are often brutal in their treatment of passengers. In 2007, the death toll was substantially higher 1,400," Redmond added.

There were again many reports of people being beaten to death during the crossings last year, but most of the deaths were due to drowning after passengers were forced overboard far off the Yemen coast in a bid by the smugglers to avoid detection by Yemeni authorities. The increase in arrivals reflects the desperate situation in Somalia and the Horn of Africa, a region scarred by civil war, political instability, famine and poverty.

UNHCR is beefing up its response in Yemen by improving reception conditions for those who manage to reach its shores and has also carried out information campaigns in the Horn of Africa warning people of the dangers of using smugglers.

The UN refugee agency and its partners also have programmes aimed at improving living conditions of people with protection needs on the Africa side of the Gulf so that they don't need to risk their lives by crossing to Yemen.




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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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