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Another 132 dead in Gulf of Aden over weekend

Briefing notes

Another 132 dead in Gulf of Aden over weekend

22 January 2008

The deadly traffic in the Gulf of Aden continues unabated, with 132 people dying last weekend and a total of 157 people dead or missing during the first 19 days of 2008. A total of 2,452 boat people were recorded arriving in Yemen during the same period. Most of them were from Somalia.

On the 18th of January a boat carrying 135 passengers approached the coast of Yemen. Seeing lights ashore and fearing capture by the Yemeni Coast Guard, the smugglers ordered passengers to jump overboard. Those who resisted were beaten with sticks and stabbed. A large wave then capsized the boat, causing the death of 114 passengers and two smugglers.

On 19 January 10 women and six children - part of a group of 29 Somalis aboard a two-engine smuggling boat - drowned when strong winds capsized the boat beside the coast of Yemen. They had left Somalia four days earlier and encountered engine problems. The 13 male survivors told us that four children had died under their parents' eyes from lack of food, water and exposure. The other two drowned.

The three smugglers allegedly ran away and have so far not been found. In recent weeks, two smuggling boats have been intercepted by the Yemeni Coastguard. Patrols and crack-downs have increased in an attempt to deter the smugglers and save lives. Some boats used by the smugglers had been given to Somali fishermen by international aid agencies after the Tsunami disaster in 2005.

The new arrivals said they paid US $150 for their trip to Yemen. They stated they had left Somalia due to violence in the Mogadishu region, the continuing hostilities between government forces and insurgents. The survivors said an increasing number of civilians are killed by heavy artillery.

UNHCR has been calling for increased action to save lives in the Gulf of Aden and other waters. Over the past year, UNHCR has stepped up its work in Yemen under a US$7 million operation that includes additional staff, more assistance, provision of additional shelter for refugees in Kharaz refugee camp, and training programmes for the coastguard and other officials.

In addition, we are expanding our presence along the remote, 300-km coastline with the opening of two additional field offices in early 2008. UNHCR is also working closely with NGOs such as MSF, which has mobile clinics that can work at arrival points along the coast.

On the Somali side, UNHCR and other partners have set up information projects to warn people of the dangers. We have also increased our presence and are providing assistance and the possibility to seek asylum on the Somali side of the Gulf of Aden. But many of those fleeing say conditions in their homeland are so bad that they are willing to take the risk. In 2007 alone, more than 29,500 people arrived on the shores of Yemen while over 1,400 people died or remained missing - presumed dead - while making the hazardous journey.