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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

Bonga Camp, Ethiopia

Bonga camp is located in the troubled Gambella region of western Ethiopia. But it remains untouched by the ethnic conflicts that have torn nearby Gambella town and Fugnido camp in the last year.

For Bonga's 17,000 Sudanese refugees, life goes on despite rumblings in the region. Refugee children continue with school and play while their parents make ends meet by supplementing UNHCR assistance with self-reliance projects.

Cultural life is not forgotten, with tribal ceremonies by the Uduk majority. Other ethnic communities – Shuluks, Nubas and Equatorians – are welcome too, judging by how well hundreds of newcomers have settled in after their transfer from Fugnido camp in late 2002.

Bonga Camp, Ethiopia

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

UNHCR - IDC video on alternatives to detention for childrenPlay video

UNHCR - IDC video on alternatives to detention for children

The story of a young boy and girl forced to flee their homes, and how detention can be avoided in order to complete their migration status.
Italy: Survivors of the Sea Tragedy Play video

Italy: Survivors of the Sea Tragedy

The 28 survivors of what is expected to be the biggest migration sea tragedy in the Mediterranean finally landed ashore in Sicily, Italy. Earlier in the day the recovered bodies of those who lost their lives where taken to Malta earlier in the day. Around 800 people lost their lives in the tragedy, only 24 bodies were recovered.
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.