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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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.

Asylum and Migration

Asylum and Migration

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

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

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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.

Somalia/Ethiopia

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