Smugglers' boat capsizes in Gulf of Aden leaving at least 30 people dead
GENEVA, February 13 (UNHCR) - A smugglers boat capsized off the coast of Yemen earlier this week leaving at least 30 people dead amid a recent spike in people smuggling across the Gulf of Aden from Somalia.
Chief UNHCR spokesman, Ron Redmond, told journalists in Geneva on Tuesday that at least 30 Somalis and Ethiopians died when the boat - carrying 120 people - foundered as it approached the Yemeni coast on Monday. "We currently have sketchy, unconfirmed reports that up to 78 may have died. The dead are being buried near the beach," Redmond added.
"Three other boats with some 355 people aboard dropped their passengers offshore and left. All passengers on those three boats apparently made it to shore," the spokesman added.
January had been a slow month for smuggler crossings due to a crackdown on smugglers in Somalia, recent fighting in Somalia, and stepped-up patrols along the Yemeni coast. There were no reported arrivals in the first two weeks of the year, but UNHCR has since noticed a dramatic increase.
Since mid-January, the refugee agency has recorded the arrival of 1,776 Somalis and Ethiopians on the Yemen coast aboard 20 boats. But at least 59 people have died during this period while trying to make the perilous crossing.
The smugglers have changed tactics and are now arriving at different points along the Yemeni coast. This makes it harder for Yemeni coastal patrols to catch them and for UNHCR and its partners to register and provide assistance to new arrivals. Despite the increase in price for the journey - from US$40 to US$100 - hundreds of people continue taking the risk.
Last week alone, at least nine smuggling boats arrived at six points along the Yemeni coast. Many of the new arrivals were badly beaten and told UNHCR that the smugglers stole their money during the voyage.
The Somalis said they fled their homes during and following the end of recent hostilities between government forces and the Islamic Courts Union. Many said they were exposed to shooting by the armed militias and had their money and belongings taken at checkpoints manned by the same militia.
Last year, UNHCR Yemen reported that some 27,000 people made the perilous voyage, with 330 deaths and another 300 still missing.
Every year, thousands of people cross the Gulf of Aden, the Mediterranean and other waters, fleeing persecution in their own countries or searching for better economic opportunities.
UNHCR has consistently tried to promote international and local action to combat the vicious smuggling practices and to focus more attention on conditions in the countries of origin that lead people to leave in the first place. Despite these efforts, the number of people leaving their homes has not decreased.