Sea crossings to Yemen exceed 62,000 so far in 2013

Briefing Notes, 8 November 2013

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 8 November 2013, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

n Yemen, UNHCR has recorded more than 62,000 sea arrivals so far this year (Jan 1 to Oct 31). We remain concerned about the very high numbers of people who are risking their lives by making this perilous journey from the Horn of Africa.

Yemen has seen six successive years of high arrivals by sea. Last year, a record 107,532 people made the crossing. And although this year's numbers are, so far, lower than in 2012 62,194 from January through October compared to 88,533 for the same period last year the Gulf of Aden remains one of the world's most travelled sea routes for mixed migration (ie, asylum seekers and migrants).

In total, since 2006 when UNHCR began collecting data, more than half-a-million asylum seekers, refugees and migrants have travelled by sea to Yemen. Most are Ethiopians, (51,687 in 2013) citing the difficult economic situation at home and often hoping to travel through Yemen to the Gulf States and beyond. Somalis arriving in Yemen (10,447 in 2013) are automatically recognized as refugees by the authorities, while UNHCR helps determine the refugee status of other asylum seekers, including from Ethiopia, Eritrea, and other countries.

The crossing from the Horn of Africa to Yemen is one of several deadly sea routes worldwide that UNHCR watches closely. Hundreds of people, including Syrian refugees, have died in recent months crossing the Mediterranean to Europe. In Southeast Asia, just last weekend, dozens of people were reported missing after their boat capsized off the coast of Myanmar in the Bay of Bengal.

Among the steps UNHCR takes to address these trends, we encourage cooperation among countries affected by mixed migration. And we are supporting the Yemeni Government to organize a conference next week on asylum and migration together with the International Organization for Migration. The three-day conference is scheduled to open on Monday in Sana'a. Participants include governments from the Horn of Africa, Gulf States, donor countries, NGOs, and institutions such as the Regional Mixed Migration Secretariat.

The aim of the Yemen conference is to establish a regional plan to help manage mixed migration between the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. The objectives of that plan include:

- Saving lives;

- Ensuring better protection systems for asylum seekers and refugees, easing the suffering of migrants and the communities that host them;

- Strengthening law enforcement against smuggling and trafficking networks;

- Increasing funding for assisted-voluntary-returns programmes for stranded migrants;

- Expanding available options for legal migration;

- And raising awareness of the dangers of irregular migration.

For more information, please contact:

  • In Sana'a, Zaid Alalaya'a at +967 7 1222 5027
  • In Geneva, Daniel MacIsaac at +41 79 200 76 17
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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.

International Migration

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Mixed Migration

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

Asylum and Migration

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

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

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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