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Yemen: UN agency reports resumed people-smuggling – and deaths – from Somalia

Yemen: UN agency reports resumed people-smuggling – and deaths – from Somalia

After a gap of several weeks the frequently deadly smuggling of people across the Gulf of Aden from Somalia to Yemen has resumed, with seven people drowning after being forced to disembark offshore in deep water, the United Nations refugee agency reported today.

The smugglers have apparently started taking new routes to Yemen as a result of increased security patrols along the coast and an incident last month in which coastguards tried to arrest smugglers, UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis told a news briefing in Geneva.

Over the weekend, staff in the UNHCR reception centre in Mayfa'a, south Yemen, reported that a boat with 130 people aboard had arrived in the region of Jebel-Reidah, about 100 kilometres southeast of Mayfa'a. The bodies of the seven who drowned were buried by villagers while the survivors were transferred to Mayfa'a where they are being assisted by UNHCR and its partners.

At the end of last week, security and immigration authorities in Aden at Yemen’s southern tip told UNHCR that 136 Somalis and 96 Ethiopians had been picked up on Al-Azizyia Island in the Red Sea and transferred by coastguards to the nearby town of Imran.

The new drop-off point near Aden is hundreds of miles away from Mayfa'a. From Somalia, the journey to Aden takes three days, instead of the usual 48-hour voyage.

All the latest Somali arrivals will be handed over to UNHCR, the agency was told. The 96 Ethiopians have been taken to Mansoura prison. UNHCR has asked for access to them to do an initial screening and make sure that no persons in need of protection are among the group.

Somalis reaching Yemen get automatic refugee status because many are fleeing violent conflict, though not all apply for it. Ethiopians are not automatically considered refugees, but can have cases heard individually.

There are currently more than 88,000 registered refugees in Yemen, of whom 84,000 are Somalis. More than 25,800 people have been recorded arriving in Yemen from Somalia this year. At least 330 people have died making the dangerous journey, while more than 300 remain missing.

In the past few months UNHCR has reported cases of migrants being savagely beaten to death and thrown overboard by club-wielding smugglers just for requesting water.