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Fifteen drown in Gulf of Aden amid surge in people smuggling to Yemen

News Stories, 19 January 2009

© Dagens Nyheter/Paul Hansen
Young people who made it safely across the Gulf of Aden, but who face an uncertain future.

ADEN, Yemen, January 19 (UNHCR) Two smugglers' boats carrying Somalis and Ethiopians have capsized in the high seas separating the Horn of Africa and Yemen, leaving at least 15 people dead and a dozen missing.

The boats were transporting 270 people when they foundered in separate incidents over the weekend in the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea. "The Yemeni coastguard is still searching for survivors," said Leila Nassif, head of the UNHCR sub-office in Aden. "We are providing medical aid and food to the survivors at our reception centres along the Yemen coast."

The first boat was carrying 150 passengers, mostly non-Somalis, from the Djibouti town of Obock. The smugglers lost their way before eventually sighting Yemen on Friday. But the engine broke down and the boat overturned in deep water close to the shore.

Yemeni authorities have recovered six bodies, while 32 passengers who made it to shore near Dhubab, 200 kilometres west of Aden, were given first, aid, food and water. The remaining 112 passengers are believed to have reached land, but their whereabouts were not immediately known.

In the second incident, a boat carrying 120 people capsized on Sunday off the Yemeni town of Ahwar after leaving Murera in Somalia last Wednesday and heading out into the Gulf of Aden. Nine bodies were recovered and buried by a local aid agency, while 99 people are known to have made it to shore. The remaining 12 are missing and feared dead.

Hundreds of Africans die every year trying to reach Yemen in search of a brighter future or to escape persecution and conflict. Many lose their lives in the turbulent waters separating the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula.

The latest tragedy coincides with an upsurge in people smuggling across the Gulf of Aden. Final statistics for 2008 show that more than 50,000 people made the perilous voyage in smugglers' boats, and that at least 590 drowned or were killed by the smugglers. Another 359 were reported missing.

"The number of new arrivals increased significantly in 2008, with nearly twice as many people landing on Yemen's shores as last year. Although such numbers place an increasing burden on Yemen's already strained economy, the Yemeni government continues to welcome refugees and asylum seekers from the Horn of Africa, for which the international community is sincerely grateful," said Claire Bourgeois, UNHCR's representative in Yemen.

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 country pages

Refugee Protection and Mixed Migration: A 10-Point Plan of Action

A UNHCR strategy setting out key areas in which action is required to address the phenomenon of mixed and irregular movements of people. See also: Schematic representation of a profiling and referral mechanism in the context of addressing mixed migratory movements.

International Migration

The link between movements of refugees and broader migration attracts growing attention.

Mixed Migration

Migrants are different from refugees but the two sometimes travel alongside each other.

Rescue at Sea

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

Asylum and Migration

Asylum and Migration

All in the same boat: The challenges of mixed migration around the world.

Gulf of Aden People-Smuggling: International Help Needed

An alarming number of people are dying trying to reach Yemen aboard smugglers' boats crossing the Gulf of Aden from Somalia. Over a three-week period in late 2005, at least 150 people perished while making the journey. These deaths are frequently the result of overcrowded boats capsizing or breaking down and going adrift without food or water. Those who survive the voyage to Yemen often give brutal accounts of smugglers beating passengers or forcing them overboard while still far off shore – in some instances with their hands and feet bound.

In response, UNHCR has issued an urgent appeal for action to stem the flow of desperate Ethiopian and Somali refugees and migrants falling prey to ruthless smugglers in a bid to reach Yemen and beyond. The refugee agency has also been working with the authorities in Puntland, in north-eastern Somalia, on ways to inform people about the dangers of using smugglers to cross the Gulf of Aden. This includes production of videos and radio programmes to raise awareness among Somalis and Ethiopians of the risks involved in such crossings.

Gulf of Aden People-Smuggling: International Help Needed

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

Ethiopia: Far From Home Play video

Ethiopia: Far From Home

Nyabuka Lam arrived in Pagak, Ethiopia in September after escaping armed men who shot her three children and husband back in her home country, South Sudan. After walking for 15 days to reach the safety of Pagak, she is now finally on a path to recovery.
Canada: Light Years Ahead
Play video

Canada: Light Years Ahead

With help from the Government of Canada, lives of refugees in Chad and Ethiopia have been transformed through the Light Years Ahead project.
Ethiopia: South Sudanese Refugee InfluxPlay video

Ethiopia: South Sudanese Refugee Influx

Despite a ceasefire agreement signed in early May, fighting continues between government and opposition forces in South Sudan. The renewed conflict has forced thousands of refugees to seek shelter in Ethiopia.