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New drowning incidents involving refugees in the Gulf of Aden

Briefing notes

New drowning incidents involving refugees in the Gulf of Aden

15 April 2011 Also available in:

Sixteen people have drowned and another five are missing following two separate incidents this week in the Gulf of Aden. Nearly all were Somalis fleeing violence and human rights abuses in their home country.

The first incident occurred in the early hours of 13 April when a boat carrying 45 Somali refugees from Mogadishu and Hiran (35 men and 10 women) sank some two kilometres off the Yemeni shores near the town of Murais, more than 300 kilometers east of Aden. Fifteen of those on board are known to have drowned and five are missing. The known-survivors (5 females and 20 males) swam ashore. They were later found by UNHCR's local partner Society for Humanitarian Solidarity (SHS) and taken to the Ahwar Reception Centre for care and recovery.

According to survivors, the boat left from the Elayo area of Bossaso in Puntland on 11 April at around six in the evening. It immediately ran into heavy winds and rough seas. As the boat began taking on water, passengers had to scoop water out to keep it afloat.

The vessel approached the Yemeni coast in the afternoon of 12 April but the smugglers, fearing interception by the Yemeni Coast Guard, refused to approach the shore. The passengers, who by then were dehydrated and hungry, began crying and shouting. Despite their appeals, the crew decided to stay out at sea till the morning. The tattered vessel ultimately sank in rough seas.

The survivors say that during the voyage they saw a cargo vessel and foreign naval ship. They say that the naval ship approached their boat but ignored their cries for help. This is disturbing. UNHCR appeals to all shipmasters in the Gulf of Aden to uphold the longstanding tradition of rescue at sea and helping vessels in distress.

Staff at the Ahwar reception centre say the survivors as exhausted, dehydrated and severely traumatized. UNHCR and SHS are assisting, including by providing counseling for survivors at the reception centre. The bodies of 15 victims have been buried at the Al-Haibalah cemetery. The smugglers are reported to have survived, having fled in the direction of Mukalla - a town some 520 km east of Aden - as soon as they reached the shore.

In a separate incident, another smugglers' boat set sail from Elayo on 11 April with 79 passengers on board - 77 Ethiopians (nine women and 68 men) and two Somalis (a man and a woman). They arrived off the coast of Yemen near Al-Kaida in Shabwa governorate on 13 April at around six in the morning. The smugglers dropped anchor in a deep area and forced the passengers into the sea. An Ethiopian man succumbed to the heavy waves and drowned. Our partner, SHS, recovered the body and had it buried at a cemetery at Al-Hamra, close to the Mayfar reception center. Of the survivors, nine women and 64 men were discovered by SHS and taken to Ahwar Reception Centre for care and support. Others left from the beach on their own.

UNHCR is alarmed by a growing number of deaths in the Gulf of Aden this year. Eighty-nine people are known to have drowned in January and February alone - compared to 15 only during the whole of 2010. We also note with the great concern the resurgence of violence and inhumane treatment by smugglers of the refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants that they are transporting. The deadly record for the first three months is a stark manifestation of this trend.

More than 6,500 Somalis and 18,800 Ethiopians have arrived in Yemen by boat so far this year.

For further information on this topic, please contact:

In Aden, Edward Leposky on mobile: +967 71 222 4022

In Geneva: Andrej Mahecic on mobile +41 79 200 7617