Refugee smugglers claim more lives in Gulf of Aden
In the latest grim episode of asylum-seekers and migrants dying while trying to cross the Gulf of Aden from Somalia to Yemen, the United Nations refugee agency reported today that smugglers forced 137 men, women and children into deep waters off the Yemeni coast, killing at least 33, with another 30 missing.
“The latest tragic incident once again highlights the urgent need for joint international and local efforts to address this problem and minimize the flow of desperate people who fall victim to ruthless smugglers,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis told a news briefing in Geneva.
Thousands of Somalis, many fleeing violence in their homeland, arrive in Yemen every year, averaging an estimated 100 people a day during the annual September to March period of good sailing conditions, after making the perilous crossing in the hands of smugglers who often beat them or force them overboard while still far from shore, sometimes with their hands tied behind their backs, leaving them to the mercy of the seas.
On Saturday, the UNHCR office in Aden, Yemen, received information that a smuggler's boat sailing from Somalia had forced all of its 137 passengers – 134 Somalis and three Ethiopians – into deep waters, before turning around and heading back to Somalia.
By Monday evening, 84 people had managed to reach shore safely, while 33 had been found dead on the Al Hodeiya shore on the southern coast. Another 30 passengers including children are still missing and we fear their chances of survival are now extremely slim,” Ms. Pagonis said. “Our team in Aden is taking care of the survivors, giving them medical care, food and non-food items.”
Despite the hazards, smugglers still find ready customers. From 12-17 January alone, 22 boats carrying an unknown number of Somalis and Ethiopians arrived in Yemen. Of those, UNHCR registered 1,217 Somalis and 39 Ethiopians. On 16 January, a boat carrying 65 people and six dead bodies arrived in Yemen. Another 14 people had reportedly died during the voyage.
UNHCR has been working with the authorities in Puntland, in north-eastern Somalia to inform people about the dangers of using smugglers. In January it produced a video to raise awareness among Somalis and Ethiopians of the risks involved and is now working on a radio programme in local languages to reach more people.
“At the same time, we are also calling on donors to support the international community in its efforts to improve protection and assistance to internally displaced persons in Puntland who live in very difficult circumstances,” Ms. Pagonis said in the latest of a series of appeals the agency has issued over recent months. “Without addressing the root causes of the outflow, progress in stemming the smuggling will be extremely limited."