Smuggling across the Gulf of Aden from Somalia to Yemen on the increase
Despite the danger and UNHCR's repeated warnings, the number of people being smuggled across the Gulf of Aden from Somalia to Yemen appears to be accelerating. In the first 12 days of the new sailing season, UNHCR staff recorded the arrival of 1,441 people in 15 boats. If the present trend continues, this month could set a new record for the number of arrivals.
These are desperate people - mainly Somalis but also large numbers of Ethiopians - who are fleeing insecurity and poverty. For a fee of $40 each, they are crammed into rickety, open fishing vessels. Many making the hazardous voyage will not survive. Those arriving on Wednesday said two male passengers had drowned when they were forced overboard while still in deep water. Four were reported to have drowned from the first boat to arrive this season on September 2.
The smugglers are operating from the commercial port of Bossasso in Puntland, a self-declared autonomous area of north-east Somalia, over 300 km from Yemen. UNHCR has worked in the region to inform people about the dangers and has called on the international community to press authorities in Puntland to crack down on smugglers. Hundreds die before reaching shore each year. At the same time, UNHCR has asked donors to back international efforts to help in Puntland, where living conditions encourage acts like sailing to Yemen.
Yemen is one of the few countries in the region that has signed the 1951 Refugee Convention, and has been generous in receiving refugees. There are currently more than 88,000 registered refugees in Yemen, of whom 84,000 are Somalis. UNHCR operates a reception centre and camp in Yemen.