More than 300 Somalis, Ethiopians are smuggled into Yemen – UN refugee agency

16 May 2006

More than 300 Somalis and Ethiopians were smuggled into Yemen last weekend with tales of a harrowing trip during which the smugglers beat three passengers to death and threw their corpses overboard, the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) said today.

Of the 335 who reportedly arrived in Yemen, only 35 came to the agency’s reception centre in May’faa in southern Yemen, but survivors of the dangerous Gulf of Aden trip often travel to other destinations, UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond told journalists at the UN complex in Geneva.

The two boatloads of refugees left Shimbarale, Somalia, on 13 May and arrived at Belhaf, in Al Ayn, on the southern coast of Yemen, on the same day, he said.

The reports of the three murders illustrated “the extreme cruelty of the Somali smugglers, who seem to have no regard for human life and are only interested in making money,” Mr. Redmond said.

This year’s sailing season ends late next month, when the seas will be too rough for the smugglers’ boats, but resumes in September. UNHCR has been calling for joint action to tackle the problem and will continue to highlight the very urgent need for a more global approach to smuggling, he said.

Earlier this month UNHCR said 39 bodies, mainly Ethiopian, were found near Belhaf. Survivors said the deceased were among those forced at gunpoint to jump from their boat, which had developed a mechanical problem.

From September of last year until last month, a total of 241 boats arrived from Somalia in Yemen, an average of 30 boats a month. Several hundred people died during these trips, although an exact figure was unavailable, UNHCR said.

Yemen, one of the few countries in the region to have signed the 1951 Refugee Convention, is hosting more than 80,000 registered refugees, of which 75,000 are Somalis.


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