Death toll in Gulf of Aden migrant tragedy reaches 107, UN refugee agency reports
At least 107 bodies have so far been found along a remote stretch of the Yemen coastline after a boat smuggling migrants from Somalia capsized on Monday in one of the deadliest single incidents in a perilous exodus that has brought more than 27,000 people across the Gulf Aden in the past year, the United Nations refugee agency reported today.
“Witnesses said the boat which capsized well offshore was carrying 120 Somalis and Ethiopians,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesman Ron Redmond told a news briefing in Geneva.
“A second smuggling vessel, also carrying 120 people, forced all its passengers into the sea when the first boat capsized. The second boat then picked up the smugglers from the capsized vessel and headed back out into the Gulf of Aden, leaving 240 people in the high seas,” he added.
According to survivor accounts, the migrants were in the water for several hours before the Yemen military came to their rescue. A military official said the victims were drifting at least half a kilometre off the coast, which made rescue efforts very difficult. Some 235 people on two other smuggling boats that approached Yemen on Monday made it to shore safely. Five people remain missing.
Over the last month, UNHCR has recorded the arrival of 1,776 Somalis and Ethiopians on 20 boats. With the latest casualties, at least 136 died making the hazardous journey and many are still missing. 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 recent hostilities between government forces and Islamic groups. Many said armed militias shot at them and took their money and belongings at checkpoints.
Every year, thousands of people cross the Gulf of Aden, the Mediterranean and other waters, fleeing persecution in their own countries or searching for better economic opportunities. UNHCR 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.