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Yemen: More deaths in Gulf of Aden

Briefing notes

Yemen: More deaths in Gulf of Aden

15 December 2006

The perilous journey across the Gulf of Aden is claiming more lives. On Tuesday and Wednesday, during the crossing from the Somali port of Bossaso to Yemen, five Somalis and Ethiopians were savagely beaten to death and thrown overboard by Somali smugglers. Those killed were travelling with a group of 205 others in two boats. The bodies were later found by Yemeni fishermen and buried.

When the remaining 205 passengers landed, they were immediately picked up by the Yemeni authorities and detained. After interventions by UNHCR they were released 24 hours later. The authorities in Yemen appear to have become increasingly strict as they try to stop and control smuggling and illegal activities.

After their release the group was taken to UNHCR's reception centre in Mayfa'a area where they received food and medical assistance, and are recovering from their traumatic experiences. The new arrivals told UNHCR they left their homes because of increased suppression by the Islamic courts in Somalia. Women are not allowed to work and some say that militia forces, previously known as warlords, are the same people now operating under the Islamic courts. Others told us they felt compelled to leave Somalia in search of peace and better conditions for their families. UNHCR noted an increase in the number of families arriving from Somalia, rather than single men.

Yemen has been exemplary in keeping its doors open to those arriving from Somalia. In recent months however, the Yemeni authorities have started to detain and deport an increasing number of non-Somalis. Earlier this month, a group of 126 Ethiopians were detained. Part of the group has reportedly been deported back to Ethiopia, despite repeated appeals by UNHCR to be given access to the group for screening.

UNHCR continues to appeal to the Yemeni authorities to keep its doors open for people fearing persecution in their own country. It has offered to help screen new arrivals to ensure that refugees among them will be detected and not deported. Yemen has so far not taken up this offer.

Over the past year, more than 23,000 people have been recorded arriving on the coast of Yemen from Somalia. During the hazardous journey over 360 people have lost their lives and more than 150 are missing. Yemen hosts some 88,000 refugees, majority of whom are Somalis.