Despite repeated appeals Yemen has still not granted the United Nations refugee agency access to 126 Ethiopian boat people who have been detained for almost two weeks and are now threatened with imminent deportation.
“We also have unconfirmed reports that Ethiopians who arrived in the last few days have also been detained,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis told a news briefing in Geneva today.
“Despite various appeals access has still not been granted. Instead, we have been informed the group will be deported in the coming days,” she said.
The Ethiopians made the two-day crossing of the Gulf of Aden smuggled in boats from Somalia, but Yemeni officials have told UNHCR staff that all non-Somali arrivals will now be detained and deported to their home countries. The agency wants to determine if there are refugees among the group who should not be deported.
“UNHCR continues to appeal to the Yemen government to abide by its international obligations under the 1951 Refugee Convention and provide UNHCR with access to this group and other new arrivals who could fear persecution in their country of origin,” Ms. Pagonis said.
“Yemen has previously generously kept its doors open for tens of thousands of people arriving on its coast every year after making the perilous crossing of the Gulf of Aden. We urge the government to continue this policy. UNHCR has consistently offered to help Yemen screen and register all new arrivals. This offer remains open,” she added.
This year, more than 22,000 people have been recorded arriving in Yemen from Somalia. The number of Ethiopians has increased over the past month. Many Ethiopians do not register for fear of being deported and instead attempt to travel on to the Gulf States.
At least 133 Somalis and 193 Ethiopians are said to have died making the crossing, during which the smugglers reportedly sometimes attack their passengers and throw them overboard. In all, there are currently over 80,000 registered refugees in Yemen, including some 75,500 Somalis.