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UN Reports New Atrocities In People Smuggling

UN Reports New Atrocities In People Smuggling From Somalia To Yemen

New York, Sep 22 2006 10:00AM

As the number of East Africans smuggled across the Gulf of Aden from Somalia to Yemen in the past three weeks topped 2,100, the United Nations refugee agency today reported new atrocities, with passengers beaten to death and thrown overboard by club-wielding smugglers just for requesting water and scores reported dead or missing.

“Despite the enormous risks, people continue risking their lives in search for safety and better economic opportunities,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesman Ron Redmond told a news briefing in Geneva.

The agency has repeatedly warned of the dangers of people smuggling from Somalia to Yemen which increased significantly in the first four months of this year when 10,500 Somalis and Ethiopians made the perilous boat journey and hundreds were hurled overboard to drown by the gun-toting traffickers.

The latest surge began earlier this month when smugglers once again began sailing rickety, overcrowded boats across the gulf with the onset of calmer weather in the region. Records compiled by UNHCR’s office in Yemen indicate 2,143 people from Somalia, Ethiopia and Sudan have made it to shore alive since 2 September.

Thirty-nine people have reportedly died making the perilous journey, many of them by drowning, and another 53 are reported missing, Mr. Redmond said. UNHCR has dealt with hundreds of survivors over the past weeks and taken more than 1,400 of them to its May’fa reception centre, where they receive assistance, food and medical care.

Citing cases, he reported that three boats with 294 people left Shimbirale in Somalia last Saturday and arrived in Yemen two days later. According to passengers, 15 people died during the voyage – 10 of them beaten to death by smugglers using wooden and steel clubs. The bodies were thrown overboard.

The other five, including a 10-year-old child and a year-old infant, died when a Yemeni Coast Guard vessel came upon two of the smuggling boats, a gunfight ensued and a boat capsized. The mother of the dead infant gave birth to a baby boy few hours after her arrival in Yemen.

Some of the latest arrivals reported that they had waited for days in Shimbirale, Marera and Elai in Somalia for boats that would take them to Yemen. But upon departure, the smugglers confiscated water and food, including dates. Survivors said people on the boats were beaten and thrown overboard by the smugglers just for requesting water.

Yemen is one of the few countries in the region that has signed the 1951 Refugee Convention and has been very generous in receiving refugees. There are currently more than 88,000 registered refugees in Yemen, of which 84,000 are Somalis.

Ends

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