Killings of two people approaching Yemeni coast prompt alarm from UN refugee agency
UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) deputy director for the region, Radhouane Nouicer, said yesterday that the agency has asked Yemeni authorities to instruct the local coastguard to refrain from shooting at boats as the arrive.
“We are extremely concerned about this incident, where innocent civilians got hurt,” Mr. Nouicer said.
Survivors of Monday’s incident have told UNHCR staff that Yemeni armed forces starting shooting as passengers on a boat carrying 120 Somalis and Ethiopians disembarked on a beach near the town of Belhaf. The fatalities are believed to be one Somali passenger and one smuggler.
The remaining smugglers on the boat – who were in possession of a gun, according to the passengers – then decided to head back to sea with about 60 people still on board, before later dropping the passengers further along the coast near Jila’a.
About 110 of the boat people have now sought assistance from a UNHCR reception centre in May’fa.
The killings come as UNHCR has expressed growing concern in recent weeks about Yemen’s treatment of the thousands of people who have been arriving from Somalia, usually in extremely rickety boats, during the annual sailing season on the Gulf of Aden.
As many as 23,000 people have been documented making the journey this year, and UNHCR records indicate that at least 360 people have perished during the crossing – there are reports that smugglers sometimes attack passengers and throw them overboard – and another 150 people are missing.
Earlier this month UNHCR urged Yemen to reconsider the imminent deportation of a group of 126 Ethiopian boat people and urged the country to abide by its commitments under the 1951 Refugee Convention. Yemen is one of the few countries in its region that has signed that pact. There are now more than 88,000 registered refugees in the country, with nearly all hailing from Somalia.