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



UNHCR country pages

Asylum and Migration

Asylum and Migration

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

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.

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


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.


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.