More smuggling deaths reported off Yemen coast
ADEN, Yemen, January 23 (UNHCR) - UNHCR and Yemeni authorities were looking into disturbing new reports Monday of dozens of deaths involving two more boatloads of people smuggled across the Gulf of Aden from the Horn of Africa, bringing to at least four the number of such deadly incidents in the past week.
Sketchy information from two isolated areas of the Yemen coast indicated there could be at least 30 fatalities in the two latest smuggling incidents, bringing the overall death toll in the past week to at least 70. Dozens more people are reported missing. Three of the four boats involved in the mishaps reportedly left Somalia last week - each carrying about 120-130 people.
The two latest incidents occurred Saturday and Sunday in the Bir Ali and the Jabal Riada coastal areas of Yemen. On Sunday evening, a boat reportedly capsized and sank in deep water off the rocky shoreline of Jabal Riada, in Yemen's Shabawa governorate. Twenty bodies had so far been recovered in that incident, according to reports received on Monday. Five Somali survivors arrived on Monday at the Mayfa'a Reception Centre, but there was no immediate word on the whereabouts of the other passengers from the capsized boat.
On Saturday, another boat dropped some 120 people ashore at Bir Ali. Passengers said 10 people had died during the voyage - four of whom were reportedly thrown overboard alive and six who died of dehydration. Another passenger died after reaching the shore.
A third incident - already reported over the weekend - occurred on Saturday when a smugglers' boat carrying some 120 Ethiopians and Somalis capsized off the Yemeni coast between Bir Ali and Mayfa'a Hajar, leaving at least 22 people dead and 28 others missing, according to survivors, Yemeni authorities and UNHCR. The dead included 13 females and nine males, authorities said.
On January 16, a boat carrying 65 people reached Yemen after drifting for six days in the Gulf of Aden with little food or water. Survivors said 20 people died. Smugglers frequently beat their passengers or force them overboard while still far from shore.
Thousands of Somalis, Ethiopians and others arrive in Yemen every year after making the perilous voyage in smugglers' boats across the Gulf of Aden, most of them from the Bossaso area of eastern Somalia. Somalis are usually taken by UNHCR to the Mayfa'a Reception Centre. Yemen is a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention and automatically grants refugee status to Somalis fleeing their conflict-ridden homeland.
Last September, UNHCR called for international action to stem the flow of people falling prey to smugglers after at least 150 boat people died in a three-week period. The refugee agency has been working with local authorities in north-eastern Somalia's Puntland region on ways to inform people about the dangers of using smugglers to cross the Gulf of Aden. This includes the production of videos and radio broadcasts to raise awareness among Somalis and Ethiopians.
But the traffic continues. Between January 12-17, at least 22 boats carrying an undetermined number of people landed on the Yemen coast. During that week, the UNHCR Reception Centre at Mayfa'a registered 1,217 Somalis and 39 Ethiopians.
There are currently more than 80,000 registered refugees in Yemen, including 75,000 Somalis. But it is estimated that there are hundreds of thousands more in the country. Many of those arriving by sea continue north from Yemen in search of a better life elsewhere.