Twenty-one people drowned in boat tragedy off coast of Yemen
ADEN, Yemen, Sept 16 (UNHCR) - At least 21 Ethiopians and Somalis have drowned after being forced off a boat near the coast of Yemen, said the UN refugee agency, which has interviewed some of the survivors.
According to the survivors, the boat had started its journey with 161 people - mostly Ethiopians, with some Somalis - from a village near Bossasso in north-eastern Somalia. Before they reached their destination of Yemen, the passengers were beaten and forced at gunpoint to jump into the Gulf of Aden about 2 or 3 km off the shore last Thursday.
As of Monday, 21 bodies had been found, along with 111 survivors. Twenty-nine people are still unaccounted for. Among the survivors, the Somalis - to whom Yemen grants prima facie refugee status - were taken inland to a transit centre at Mayfa'a, where they have been interviewed by UNHCR staff. If they wish, they will be transferred to Al Kharaz camp near Aden, which already hosts some 10,000 Somalis.
On average, some 10,000 people are believed to make the crossing from Somalia to Yemen every year in search of safety or better opportunities. Many of them sail on vessels that are not seaworthy, or fall prey to unscrupulous boat captains who force them to jump ship for fear of being caught by Yemen's coast guards.
The proportion of Ethiopian passengers has risen dramatically - with many more waiting at the port in Bossasso - possibly due in part to the recent expulsion of illegal migrants from Djibouti.
UNHCR estimates that there are more than 70,000 refugees in Yemen, but government figures put it at more than 165,000 refugees. The Somalis make up the majority - numbering some 64,000 - but there are 11 other nationalities among the refugee population.