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Sixteen drown as death toll of human smuggling to Yemen continues to climb

Briefing notes

Sixteen drown as death toll of human smuggling to Yemen continues to climb

1 September 2009

Sixteen people have drowned in the Gulf of Aden over the weekend in two separate incidents involving smuggling boats sailing from Somalia.

The passengers onboard the first boat said that the vessel, reportedly carrying 44 Somalis, capsized early Saturday night when the smugglers began to push the passengers over board into the waters off the coast of Yemen. The boat departed on Friday from the village of Marera, east of the northern Somali port of Bosasso. As smugglers began forcing people into the sea, frightened passengers moved towards one side of the vessel causing it to capsize.

Thirty-four passengers made it to shore near Rujehma, some 150 kilometers east of the Mayfa'a reception centre. Seven bodies were recovered and buried in a nearby cemetery by UNHCR's local partner agency. Another three African nationals are still missing and their status remains unknown.

The second boat, reportedly carrying 42 Somalis, reached the shore of Yemen early Sunday morning after having sailed for almost a day. Fearing detection by the Yemeni authorities, the smugglers forced passengers to swim to shore. As a result, three people drowned and three others are missing and presumed dead. Thirty people managed to swim to shore, while six others are reported to have remained onboard with the smugglers.

In order to be able to respond to a potential massive influx of new arrivals, UNHCR has developed, together with other partners and local authorities, a plan on how to provide protection and assistance to as many as 20,000 new arrivals. In addition, we have improved the capacity and conditions of the Ahwar and Mayfa'a reception centres. We have also established a presence, through our partners, in Bab al Mandab, on the Red Sea, and in the new transit centre in Mayfa'a Hajar, some 50 km west of Mukalla.

In the past five days, a total of 17 boats carrying 835 people arrived in Yemen after making the perilous voyage across the Gulf of Aden from the Horn of Africa, a region beset by conflict, political instability, famine and drought. Between January and August this year, some 36,000 Africans reached the shore of Yemen, an increase of 33 percent over the same period last year. In 2008, 50,091 people arrived in Yemen on smugglers' boats. Some 590 people drowned and 359 others are missing at sea and presumed dead.