At least 62 dead in Red Sea Boat tragedy

Briefing Notes, 6 June 2014

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 6 June 2014, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR has learned this week of a new boat tragedy off the coast of Yemen that has claimed 62 lives. We are still seeking information, but it is now confirmed that a boat carrying 60 people from Somalia and Ethiopia and two Yemeni crew sank last Saturday in the Red Sea. The victims were reportedly buried by local residents after their bodies washed ashore near the Bab El Mandeb area off Yemen's coast.

UNHCR's thoughts are with the families and friends of those involved. The tragedy is the largest single loss of life this year of migrants and refugees attempting to reach Yemen via the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. It follows previous incidents in January, March and April, bringing the known total of deaths-at-sea of people trying to reach Yemen to at least 121 so far his year.

UNHCR strongly believes that every life counts and is working to prevent the alarming loss of life at sea and indifference to people desperately needing protection. We are reiterating our call for governments in the region to strengthen their search-and-rescue capacities, their arrangements for securing safe disembarkation of those rescued and proper identification, and assistance and referral of vulnerable people in need of protection and assistance. We stand ready to support Yemen in these activities, alongside other measures to boost the protection system in the region adopted in the Sana'a Declaration of last November's Regional Conference on Asylum and Migration.

UNHCR has documented the arrival of 16,500 refugees and migrants on the Yemeni coast during the first four months of 2014, significantly less than the 35,000 received in the same period last year. Over the past five years, more than half-a-million people (mainly Somalis, Ethiopians and Eritreans) have crossed the dangerous waters of the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea to reach Yemen. Boats are overcrowded and smugglers have reportedly thrown passengers overboard to prevent capsizing or avoid detection. Search-and-rescue officials say the practice has resulted in hundreds of undocumented casualties in recent years.

UNHCR provides first aid and food to the new arrivals identified by patrolling teams on the coast, at three coastal transit centres. Our partners, the Danish Refugee Council, the Society of Humanitarian Solidarity, and the Yemen Red Crescent also provide relief, help patrol the coast and provide transport to the nearest reception centre for initial registration. With Somalis receiving prima facie refugee status, those non-Somalis who express interest in seeking asylum are provided with attestation letters, valid for 20 days, to approach the UNHCR offices in Sana'a or Aden and seek asylum.

For more information on this topic, please contact:

  • In Sana'a: Johannes van der Klaauw on mobile + 967 71 222 51 11
  • In Sana'a: Nick Stanton on mobile +967 71 222 5087
  • In Geneva: Adrian Edwards at +41 79 557 91 20
  • In Geneva: Ariane Rummery on mobile +41 79 200 7617
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East Africans continue to flood into the Arabian Peninsula

Every month, thousands of refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants from Somalia and Ethiopia cross the Gulf of Aden or the Red Sea to reach Yemen, fleeing drought, poverty, conflict or persecution. And although this year's numbers are, so far, lower than in 2012 - about 62,200 in the first 10 months 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 irregular migration (asylum-seekers and migrants). UNHCR and its local partners monitor the coast to provide assistance to the new arrivals and transport them to reception centres. Those who make it to Yemen face many challenges and risks. The government regards Somalis as prima facie refugees and automatically grants them asylum, but other nationals such as the growing number of Ethiopians can face detention. Some of the Somalis make their own way to cities like Aden, but about 50 a day arrive at Kharaz Refugee Camp, which is located in the desert in southern Yemen. Photographer Jacob Zocherman recently visited the Yemen coast where arrivals land, and the camp where many end up.

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A Family of Somali Artists Continue to Create in Exile

During two decades of conflict and chaos in Somalia, Mohammed Ousman stayed in Mogadishu and taught art as others fled the country. But life became impossible after Al Shabaab militants killed his brother for continuing to practise art. Four of the man's nine children were also murdered. Mohammed closed his own "Picasso Art School" and married his brother's widow, in accordance with Somali custom. But without a job, the 57-year-old struggled to support two families and eventually this cost him his first family. Mohammed decided to leave, flying to Berbera in Somaliland in late 2011 and then crossing to Aw-Barre refugee camp in Ethiopia, where he joined his second wife and her five children. UNHCR transferred Mohammed and his family to Addis Ababa on protection grounds, and in the belief that he could make a living there from his art. But he's discovering that selling paintings and drawings can be tough - he relies on UNHCR support. The following images of the artist and his family were taken by UNHCR's Kisut Gebre Egziabher.

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Yemeni Province Starts Rebuilding as 100,000 Displaced Return

Life is slowly returning to normal in urban and rural areas of the southern Yemeni province of Abyan, where fighting between government forces and rebels caused major population displacements in 2011 and 2012.

But since last July, as hostilities subsided and security began to improve, more than 100,000 internally displaced people (IDP) have returned to their homes in the province, or governorate. Most spent more than a year in temporary shelters in neighbouring provinces such as Aden and Lahj.

Today, laughing children once more play without fear in the streets of towns like the Abyan capital, Zinjibar, and shops are reopening. But the damage caused by the conflict is visible in many areas and the IDPs have returned to find a lack of basic services and livelihood opportunities as well as lingering insecurity in some areas.

There is frustration about the devastation, which has also affected electricity and water supplies, but most returnees are hopeful about the future and believe reconstruction will soon follow. UNHCR has been providing life-saving assistance since the IDP crisis first began in 2011, and is now helping with the returns.

Amira Al Sharif, a Yemeni photojournalist, visited Abyan recently to document life for the returnees.

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