(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Smugglers drown African migrants

[Yemen] Small fishing boats, like this one in Bossaso'o busy commercial port, carry up to 125 people when used to smuggle migrants from the Somali coast across the Gulf of Aden to Yemen. Smugglers charge $30 to $50 and sometimes throw their passengers out
UNHCR/K.McKinsey

A group of 33 migrants from Ethiopia and Somalia died on Friday after smugglers forced them off their boat near the Yemeni shore, a Somali community leader in Sana'a, the capital of Yemen, said on Monday.

"Smugglers forced 120 [Ethiopian and Somali] migrants into the sea before anchoring at the shore for fear of the Yemeni coastguard authorities,"
Sadat Mohammed, head of refugee affairs in the Somali community in
Sana'a, told IRIN.

"Those who resisted were stabbed and beaten by smugglers, and then thrown into the stormy sea. Twenty of them were stabbed, and the shore became reddish as a result of the bleeding bodies," he added.

According to Mohammed, Yemeni authorities buried the bodies in the local area.

The victims were on three boats carrying 320 passengers in total that left the Somali port of Bossaso on 4 April and arrived in Bir Ali in Yemen’s southern province of Shabwa after a two-day perilous journey across the Gulf of Aden. Two other boats carrying 100 passengers each arrived safely.

The incident came 15 days after at least 35 African migrants were confirmed dead and 113 missing while crossing the Gulf of Aden as traffickers forced 450 Somalis and Ethiopians off four boats into the sea off the Yemeni coast.

''Twenty of them were stabbed, and the shore became reddish as a result of the bleeding bodies.''

The Somali community called on the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) to launch an awareness campaign on the risks of the boat journey to Yemen. The campaign could target potential migrants in Somalia via their relatives in Yemen, who already have refugee status.

"We [Somali community in Sana'a] demand that UNHCR launch an awareness programme explaining to the refugees in Yemen the danger of these journeys and the tragic humanitarian situation that occur as a consequence," Mohammed said, explaining that would-be migrants in Africa would call relatives in Yemen before making the crossing.

According to Mohammed, one in 10 refugees in Yemen arrived on smugglers’ boats. He said Somalis and Ethiopians come to Bossaso because it is a relatively safe place where they can earn money for their journey to Yemen.

The journey by boat to Yemen costs US $100, twice what it cost a few months ago, the Somali community leader said.

In 2006, about 26,000 people made the Somalia-Yemen trip and at least 330 died, according to UNHCR. Another 300 were reported missing and are believed to be dead.

A signatory to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol,
Yemen is now home to more than 100,000 refugees, mostly Somalis.

UNHCR officials said they will ask donor countries to provide more funds for refugees in Yemen as their annual US $4.7 million budget for the country, which is its second largest budget in the region after Iraq, is not sufficient to cater to the needs of refugees there.

maj/at/ed

see also
Thirty-five migrants dead, 113 missing
Suleiman Hassan, Yemen “Now that my parents are both dead I am alone in this world”

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