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Deadly people smuggling from Somalia to Yemen claims at least 30 more lives – UN

Deadly people smuggling from Somalia to Yemen claims at least 30 more lives – UN

At least 30 migrants drowned yesterday when the boat smuggling them from Somalia capsized off the Yemeni coast, and the death toll may be as high as nearly 80, with the illicit shipping of people across the Gulf of Aden soaring in recent weeks, the United Nations refugee agency said today.

“In less than a month, we have seen a dramatic increase in people smuggling from Somalia, with over 1,600 arrivals in Yemen aboard some 20 boats,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesman Ron Redmond told a news briefing in Geneva.

“Once again the Gulf of Aden has claimed the lives of at least 30 Somalis and Ethiopians when the boat smuggling them from Somalia to Yemen capsized on approach to the Yemeni coast on Monday. We currently have sketchy, unconfirmed reports that up to 78 may have died,” he added.

The dead are being buried near the beach. Three other boats dropped some 120 people offshore and left. All those passengers apparently made it to shore. In recent months UNHCR has reported cases of migrants being savagely beaten to death and thrown overboard by club-wielding smugglers just for requesting water.

Mr. Redmond noted that the smugglers have changed tactics and are now arriving at different points along the Yemeni coast, making it harder for Yemeni coastal patrols to catch them and for UNHCR and its partners to register them and provide aid. Despite the increase in price for the journey, from $40 to $100, hundreds of desperate people continue taking the risk.

January had been slow with no reported arrivals in the first two weeks due to a crackdown on smugglers in Somalia, recent fighting there and stepped-up patrols along the Yemeni coast. But last week alone, at least nine smuggling boats arrived at six points along the Yemeni coast.

Many of the new arrivals were badly beaten and told UNHCR the smugglers stole their money during the voyage. The Somalis said they fled their homes during and after hostilities between government forces and the Islamic groups. Many said armed militias shot at them and took their money and belongings at checkpoints.

In 2006, UNHCR reported that some 27,000 people made the perilous voyage, with 330 deaths and another 300 still missing. The agency has consistently tried to promote international and local action to combat the vicious smuggling practices and to focus more attention on conditions in the countries of origin that lead people to leave in the first place. Despite these efforts, the number of people leaving their homes and taking enormous risks has not decreased.