Eight dead and 22 missing in latest Gulf of Aden tragedy

Briefing Notes, 7 April 2009

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson William Spindler to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 7 April 2009, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

Eight people drowned and another 22 are missing and presumed dead in the Gulf of Aden as a result of two different smuggling incidents over the weekend off the coast of Yemen's Hadramout region, some 600 km east of Aden.

The first boat, reportedly carrying 40 Somalis, capsized Saturday evening as passengers started disembarking off the Yemen coast, some 80 km east of Mayfa'a, where UNHCR operates a reception centre. Twenty people made it to shore near Rass al Kalb, where one of UNHCR's partners, the Society for Human Solidarity (SHS), provided them with water and food before transporting them to Mayfa'a for further assistance and registration. No bodies were recovered and the status of those missing remains unknown. Survivors said the smuggler's boat had departed from Marera, east of the Somali town of Bossasso.

A second tragedy occurred late Sunday afternoon off the coast of Rujeema, 120 km east of Mayfa'a. Survivors said eight people died and two were missing and presumed dead after their boat carrying 23 passengers hit rough seas and the vessel began taking on water. Witnesses said some of the deaths were due to suffocation after the smugglers covered the passenger area with a tarpaulin to prevent water from getting in. Thirteen people made it to shore near Rujeema. They were given first aid by SHS and then transferred to Mayfa'a reception centre. Survivors said the vessel had departed from the Somali town of Elayo, west of Bossasso.

So far this year, a total of 339 boats and 17,035 people have arrived in Yemen after making the perilous voyage across the Gulf of Aden from the Horn of Africa. To date, 74 people have reportedly died and 51 are missing at sea. Those who make the crossing are fleeing desperate situations of civil war, political instability, poverty and famine in Somalia and the Horn of Africa.

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

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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.

Posted on 20 May 2008

The Gulf of Aden: Sharp Rise in Crossings and Deaths

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

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

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