Some 74,000 Africans cross Gulf of Aden to Yemen in record-breaking year

News Stories, 18 December 2009

© UNHCR/P.Behan
Newly arrived Somali refugees wait to be registered at a refugee camp in Yemen.

GENEVA, December 18 (UNHCR) More than 74,000 Africans, fleeing civil war, political instability, poverty, famine and drought in the Horn of Africa, crossed the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea on smugglers' boats and reached the shores of Yemen this year. This figure represents a staggering 50 per cent increase over last year's 50,000 arrivals, itself a record.

Refugees and migrants make the risky journey under harrowing conditions. In some cases they are beaten, raped, killed or just thrown overboard into the shark-infested waters. In addition, the overloaded and overcrowded boats sometimes capsize, resulting in the drowning of many onboard.

According to the latest UNHCR statistics, at least 309 people drowned or did not survive the trip this year. In 2008, some 590 people died during the crossing. Many more people went missing and are presumed dead. The mixed migration route through the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea is presently the busiest and the deadliest one in the world.

Unlike in previous years, Somalis are no longer the majority of arrivals. With nearly 32,000 Somali arrivals this year their number remains steady in comparison to 2008. However, the number of Ethiopians reaching Yemen more than doubled this year to above 42,000.

While virtually all arriving Somalis approach the two, strategically positioned reception centres in Mayfaa and Ahwar, where they receive protection and assistance, only some 9,000 Ethiopians went to these venues this year. Most press on towards the Persian Gulf states in search of job opportunities.

The Mayfaa and Ahwar reception centres are open for all nationalities arriving in Yemen. In addition to provision of temporary shelter and assistance, they offer information and possibilities to apply for asylum and issue passes, valid for 10 days, for onward travel to Sana'a or Aden, where refugee status determination is carried out.

Upon arrival in Yemen, all Somali nationals are automatically recognized as refugees by the Yemeni authorities, under its group recognition policy. Presently, Yemen hosts some 150,000 Somali refugees. Other nationalities, including Ethiopians, wishing to apply for asylum are required to undergo the refugee status determination procedure conducted by UNHCR. The refugee agency believes some Ethiopian arrivals may have avoided approaching the reception centres, fearing arrest and detention as those who do not apply for asylum and are found to be in the country illegally could be deported.

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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.

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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.

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Asylum and Migration

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

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

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

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