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Yemen: people-smuggling from Somalia, and deaths, pick up steam, UN reports

Yemen: people-smuggling from Somalia, and deaths, pick up steam, UN reports

The deadly smuggling of people across the Gulf of Aden from Somalia to Yemen is picking up steam, with 15 people including a pregnant woman reported to have drowned while disembarking in deep water, and up to 9,000 others, according to some estimates, waiting to cross over, the United Nations refugee agency said today.

The drowning occurred when two boats with some 260 people on board feared coming closer to shore, UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis told a news briefing in Geneva. Most of the survivors were arrested after arriving onshore by the Yemen coastal armed forces but some managed to escape.

Since January last year, more than 26,000 migrants have been recorded arriving on the coast of Yemen from Somalia. At least 340 people have died making the dangerous journey, while more than 300 remain missing. There are currently more than 88,000 registered refugees in Yemen including 84,000 Somalis.

“The new arrivals reported that thousands of Somalis and Ethiopians in Bosaso (northern Somalia), including families with small children, are waiting to cross the Gulf of Aden,” Ms. Pagonis said. “Some estimated the numbers to be more than 9,000.

“Several Somalis told us they left their homes before and during the hostilities between the Ethiopian army and the Union of Islamic Courts forces, but were forced to stay in Bosaso due to rough sea conditions. They also said that smugglers have become more careful of the Yemeni coast guard which has increased its patrols,” she added.

The new arrivals said they were searched and had money taken by some of the armed men before being taken inland. UNHCR immediately asked for clarification from the Yemeni authorities who said they would address the problem, caused as they said by “bad elements.”

About 200 people were taken to UNHCR’s Mayfa’a reception centre in southern Yemen, where they were given food and medical assistance as well as clothes and plastic slippers as most had lost their possessions.

On Friday, another boat arrived at the coast between Aden and Hadramout carrying 51 Somalis and nine Ethiopians. The Somali new arrivals, as a rule accepted by the Yemenis as refugees on a prima facie basis, were registered and the Ethiopians were given appointment slips for further interviews.

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.