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Yemen: More Gulf of Aden crossing deaths

Briefing notes

Yemen: More Gulf of Aden crossing deaths

6 February 2007

Over the weekend, we received reports that 15 people, including a pregnant Somali woman, died on Thursday off the coast of Yemen while disembarking in deep water from two smugglers' boats which feared coming closer to shore. The two boats were carrying an estimated 260 people across the Gulf of Aden from the Somali port of Bossaso. The incident happened 270 km from Aden.

Most of the survivors were arrested after arriving onshore by the Yemen coastal armed forces but some managed to escape. The new arrivals told UNHCR they were searched and had money taken by some of the armed men before being taken inland. UNHCR immediately asked for clarification from the Yemeni authorities who said they would address the problem, caused as they said by "bad elements". A total of 201 people were taken to UNHCR's Mayfa'a reception centre in southern Yemen, where they were given food and medical assistance as well as clothes and plastic slippers as most had lost their possessions.

On Friday, another boat arrived at the coast between Aden and Hadramout carrying 51 Somalis and nine Ethiopians. The Somali new arrivals - as a rule accepted by the Yemenis as refugees on a prima facie basis - were registered and the Ethiopians were given appointment slips for further interviews.

The new arrivals reported that thousands of Somalis and Ethiopians in Bossaso, including families with small children, are waiting to cross the Gulf of Aden. Some estimated the numbers to be more than 9,000. Several Somalis told us they left their homes before and during the hostilities between the Ethiopian army and the Union of Islamic Courts forces, but were forced to stay in Bossaso due to rough sea conditions. They also said that smugglers have become more careful of the Yemeni coast guard which has increased its patrols.

There are currently more than 88,000 registered refugees in Yemen including 84,000 Somalis. More than 26,000 people have been recorded arriving in Yemen from Somalia since January 2006. At least 340 people have died making the dangerous journey, while more than 300 remain missing.