Global perspective Human stories

Asphyxiation, beating, drowning claim 28 lives in exodus from Somalia to Yemen – UN

Asphyxiation, beating, drowning claim 28 lives in exodus from Somalia to Yemen – UN

At least 28 people died from asphyxiation, beating or drowning and many were badly injured by smugglers in a renewed surge of people smuggling from Somalia to Yemen which saw more than 1,100 brave the perilous exodus across the Gulf of Aden in the past 6 days alone, the United Nations refugee agency reported today.

“Others are suffering from various skin problems from prolonged contact with sea water, human waste, diesel and other chemicals,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesman Ron Redmond told a news briefing in Geneva. “They are not allowed to move during the voyage,” he added of the trip which can take two days or more.

This latest drama follows a tragedy in February in which at least 107 bodies were found along a remote stretch of the Yemen coastline after a people-smuggling boat capsized in one of the deadliest single incidents in a perilous voyage that has brought some 30,000 migrants from Somalia since January last year. Over 500 people died during that period and at least 300 remain missing.

Yesterday, according to initial reports, four boats carrying more than 500 people landed on the Yemeni coasts. At least 25 people reportedly died during the journey. “When our staff arrived on the beach yesterday, some had already been buried,” Mr. Redmond said. “We are still awaiting more details from the survivors, most of whom were taken to UNHCR’s reception centre.

On 17 March, four boats arrived from Bosaso in Somalia carrying some 625 people who were spotted by the Yemeni armed forces. “In an attempt to distract the armed forces, the smugglers on one boat threw 35 Somalis into the water and took the remaining 215 passengers, many with their hands bound by ropes, closer to the shore where they were forced to disembark,” Mr. Redmond said.

Yemeni security forces managed to rescue the remaining 35 two hours later by helicopter but by then all the smugglers had escaped and at least three people had died, he added.

UNHCR has repeatedly drawn attention to the dangers of people smuggling across the Gulf of Aden, which finds a ready market in Somalia among Somalis and Ethiopians fleeing civil conflict or drought, and horror stories abound of club-wielding smugglers beating their passengers, even including pregnant women, throwing them overboard and stealing their money.

UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner for Protection Erika Feller and Middle East and North African Director Radhouane Nouicer recently visited the region to underline the enormous challenges faced by Yemen. They expressed UNHCR’s commitment to appeal for additional funding and international action to help Yemen, and to develop projects to improve the living conditions and self sufficiency of the refugees in Yemen.

They also agreed to work closer with the Yemeni authorities to manage the mixed migration flows arriving in Yemen and to ensure protection and durable solutions for those who need it as well as safe returns for those who do not.

UNHCR has been helping Yemen provide assistance, care and housing to over 100,000 refugees already in the country.