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No letup in Gulf of Aden smuggling deaths

Briefing notes

No letup in Gulf of Aden smuggling deaths

10 April 2007

At least 34 people being smuggled from Somalia across the Gulf of Aden drowned after being forced overboard by smugglers in deep waters off the coast of Yemen, according to reports by survivors, Yemeni officials and UNHCR. The incident occurred early Friday when three smuggling boats approached the Yemeni coast near Bir Ali following a two-day voyage from the Bossaso region of Somalia. Witnesses and survivors said two of the boats had begun dropping their passengers off near shore when they reportedly came under fire from Yemeni authorities and moved back out to sea. Twenty-two people later forced into the deeper water drowned and were buried on the beach.

Reports indicated that the shooting caused no direct casualties. UNHCR contacted authorities for information on the incident and were told that the military have instructions not to shoot at boats unless they have been fired on first by the smugglers or if they have prior information that a boat is smuggling weapons, drugs or other illegal substances.

A third boat which approached the coast of Yemen early Friday afternoon forced its passengers overboard far from shore and another 12 people drowned. They, too, were buried on the beach. Passengers aboard the third boat said they were beaten throughout the voyage from Somalia and that at least two Ethiopian men unable to endure the mistreatment jumped overboard.

In all, the three boats that arrived Friday carried 365 people, including 234 Ethiopians and 131 Somalis.

Three more boats carrying 270 Somalis and Ethiopians arrived on Sunday near Bir Ali. All were believed to have reached shore safely.

Last year, some 26,000 people made the perilous voyage across the Gulf of Aden and at least 330 died. Another 300 were reported missing and believed dead. Since the beginning of this year, more than 5,600 people have landed on the Yemeni coast and at least 200 people have died. Many remain missing.