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Drownings reported off the coast of Yemen

Briefing notes

Drownings reported off the coast of Yemen

6 September 2005

UNHCR is appalled that yet another group of at least 45 Somalis and Ethiopians died last week at sea while crossing the Gulf of Aden in an attempt to reach Yemen aboard smugglers' boats from Somalia. The people were reportedly aboard four boats carrying up to 400 Africans that had sailed from Bossasso, in north-eastern Somalia. Off the Yemeni coast, survivors said they were told to jump into the sea and swim to the shore. Forty-five bodies have so far been recovered along the the Yemeni coast. Some 50 people made it to shore and were taken to UNHCR's reception centre in Mayfaah, where they have received shelter and food and are awaiting further transport on to Al Kharaz camp near Aden. The remaining people have not been found, but many could well have arrived at different parts of the Yemeni coast and have decided not to seek our help.

This is the latest of many such tragic incidents, many of them unreported, off the coast of Yemen. People are drowning not because they have been denied access to protection or to the territory of Yemen, or because they fear interception at sea, but because they are desperate and at the mercy of ruthless smugglers. Nor is there any authority in Bossasso trying to dissuade them from making the perilous journey in the first place.

On 3 March of this year, some 90 people, including women and children, died when a vessel carrying 93 passengers - one of six that had sailed from Bossasso - sank in the Gulf of Aden after developing a technical problem. Only the crew reportedly survived. Some of the Somalis had been severely beaten by the smugglers. A few days later, on 7 March, another 85 people were ordered to jump overboard while still far from the coast, and 18 drowned.

People arriving in Yemen tell harrowing stories of journeys of 48 hours in small motorised canoes on rough, shark-infested seas.

This latest incident marks the start of calmer weather in the Gulf of Aden and we fear we could see more tragedies in the coming months. Most of the migrants normally start coming to Yemen between mid-September and March, when the sea is at its calmest

Yemen, one of the few countries in the region to have signed the 1951 Convention on Refugees, has been extremely generous in receiving migrants and refugees. There are presently some 47,000 Somalis registered with UNHCR as refugees on prima-facie basis in Yemen, but it's estimated that hundreds of thousands more people are in the country.