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More than 50,000 people used smugglers to cross Gulf of Aden last year

Briefing notes

More than 50,000 people used smugglers to cross Gulf of Aden last year

9 January 2009

Another major route for people fleeing violence and persecution is across the Gulf of Aden from Somalia.

Final statistics for 2008 from our office in Yemen show that 50,091 people made the perilous voyage in smugglers' boats across the Gulf of Aden last year, and that at least 590 drowned. Another 359 were reported missing.

This represents a 70 percent increase in arrivals over the previous year's total of 29,500 who made the journey with Somalia-based smugglers who are often brutal in their treatment of passengers. In 2007, the death toll was substantially higher - 1,400.

There were again many reports of people being beaten to death during the crossings in 2008, but most of the deaths were due to drowning after passengers were forced overboard in treacherous waters far off the Yemen coast in a bid by the smugglers to avoid detection by Yemen authorities. The increase in arrivals reflects the desperate situation in Somalia and the Horn of Africa, a region scarred by civil war, political instability, famine and poverty.

UNHCR is beefing up its response in Yemen by improving reception conditions for those who manage to reach its shores and has also carried out information campaigns in the Horn of Africa warning people of the dangers of using smugglers. UNHCR and its partners also have programmes aimed at improving living conditions of people with protection needs on the Africa side of the gulf so that they don't need to risk their lives by crossing to Yemen.