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Somali community concerned over migrant deaths

The Somali community in Yemen has expressed mounting concern for the fate of its


Photo: Muhammad al-Jabri/IRIN
Mohammed Ali Hersi, head of the Somali community in Yemen, is concerned about the deaths of Somali migrants.

fellow citizens following reports in the past few days that up to five had been killed by smugglers while trying to cross the Gulf of Aden and one shot dead by Yemeni authorities a day earlier.

"We have been very worried about the deaths of five people in the Gulf of Aden last week. Those responsible for their deaths are of course the smugglers. It was a tragedy, indeed, when we heard about their deaths. But we really don't know who they are, whether they are Somalis or Ethiopians,” said Mohammed Ali Hersi, head of the Somali community in Sana'a, the Yemeni capital.

The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) reported on Friday that on 12 and 13 December five Somalis and Ethiopians were savagely beaten to death and thrown overboard by Somali smugglers in two boats crossing from the Somali port of Bosaso to Yemen. Their bodies were later found by Yemeni fishermen.

“This is not the first time this has happened. It has become a routine scenario. Many people have been killed by smugglers. The smugglers force passengers to continue their journey by swimming as they [smugglers] are careful not to be caught by Yemeni coast guards,” said Hersi, alluding to the common practice of throwing passengers overboard to lighten the load of a boat and so prevent detection by Yemeni coastguard authorities.

Hazardous journey

Over the past year, UNHCR has recorded the arrival of more than 23,000 people on the coast of Yemen from Somalia. During the hazardous journey more than 360 people have lost their lives and more than 150 are missing.

In the recent incident in which five were killed, some 205 others survived the perilous two-day journey and were immediately picked up and detained by Yemeni authorities. After intervention by UNHCR, they were released and taken to the refugee agency’s reception centre in Mayfa'a where they received food and medical assistance.

News of the five deaths came just a day after fatalities were reported in another crossing incident. On 11 December, Yemeni authorities shot at a boat arriving near the Yemeni town of Belhaf with 120 Somalis and Ethiopians, killing one Somali migrant and one Somali smuggler, according to UNHCR. A third Somali had died on the boat hours earlier from as yet unknown causes.

The new arrivals said armed forces started shooting when passengers were disembarking on the beach in an apparent bid to kill the smugglers, who passengers said possessed a gun. The shooting incident was confirmed by the Yemeni security coordinator in Belhaf and condemned by UNHCR.

"We are extremely concerned about this incident, where innocent civilians got hurt," said Radhouane Nouicer, UNHCR’s Geneva-based deputy director for the region. "Our colleagues in Yemen have informed the authorities and asked them to instruct the coastguard to refrain from shooting at arriving boats."

Hersi of the Somali community in Sana’a said they do not have the resources to investigate the incidents but called on authorities to tackle the problem for the sake of the hundreds of families that have lost loved ones trying to reach Yemen.

“In the middle of the sea, there are mass graves for those who have fallen victim to the brutal smugglers… We receive letters from Somali families asking for their lost relatives, and we search for them in the registers - there are many who have been lost,” said Hersi.

Yemen hosts some 88,000 refugees, of which 84,000 are Somalis, according to UNHCR.

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This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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