Close sites icon close
Search form

Search for the country site.

Country profile

Country website

Yemen: Deaths mount on Gulf of Aden smuggling route

Briefing notes

Yemen: Deaths mount on Gulf of Aden smuggling route

24 January 2006 Also available in:

Between 12 January and yesterday (23 Jan.), at least 27 smugglers' boats carrying an undetermined number of people across the Gulf of Aden from the Horn of Africa have arrived along the coast of Yemen, often with tragic consequences. In the past week alone, at least 70 people - mostly Somalis and Ethiopians - have died in incidents involving four separate boats. Dozens more are missing. Three of the four boats involved in the mishaps reportedly left Somalia last week - each carrying about 120-130 people.

The three latest incidents occurred over the weekend - two on Saturday and one on 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. As of yesterday afternoon, 20 bodies had been recovered. 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. The other incident on Saturday occurred when a smuggler's boat carrying some 120 Ethiopians and Somalis capsized off the coast between Bir Ali and Mayfa'a Hajar, leaving at least 22 people dead and 28 others missing. 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.

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.

The recent spate of arrivals comes after a two-week lull because of bad weather in the Gulf of Aden, which prevented small boats from making the perilous crossing. Drought, recent clashes in parts of Somalia and general instability there are also believed to have prompted more people to resort to smugglers. Since January 12, a total of 1,295 Somali refugees and 73 Ethiopians have been registered at UNHCR's Mayfa'a Reception Centre in Yemen. Many others, however, do not make contact with us or the authorities.

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.

Many of those arriving by sea continue north from Yemen in search of a better life elsewhere.