Atrocities mark start of new people-smuggling season across Gulf of Aden, UN reports

11 September 2007

People-smuggling boats from Somalia have once again taken to the Gulf of Aden in the perilous annual exodus to Yemen, despite bad weather conditions, amid reports of new deadly atrocities committed by smugglers against the migrants, the United Nations refugee agency said today.

“Twelve died on the high seas under horrific circumstances. At least five of them were beaten and stabbed by smugglers and thrown overboard, while another six died of asphyxiation and dehydration in the hold of a boat. One person drowned after disembarking in deep waters,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesman Ron Redmond told a news briefing in Geneva.

In the past week, 324 Somalis and Ethiopians have landed in Yemen as the new people-smuggling season gets underway with the anticipated arrival of better weather, in an annual ritual which sees tens of thousands of migrants risking their lives in rickety vessels at the hands of often unscrupulous and brutal traffickers.

“New arrivals on 3 September told UNHCR staff that passengers on their vessel were beaten with clubs and stabbed throughout the voyage. Several survivors were treated for their injuries at a UNHCR-sponsored medical clinic in Yemen,” Mr. Redmond said.

Since January 2006 some 30,000 people braved the voyage, and nearly 400 were killed or died as smugglers murdered some migrants and others perished when their boats capsized.

Last week, UNHCR officials reported that thousands of Ethiopians and Somalis had already gathered in the northern Somali port of Bossaso in anticipation of the new exodus and they said they feared that the new people-smuggling season would be as bad and deadly as the last.

When the latest boat approached shore near Arqa on Saturday, Yemeni forces reportedly opened fire, barely missing the 90 passengers on board, Mr. Redmond said. Smugglers ask between $60 and $100 for the journey.

Somali refugees registered at the UNHCR’s reception centre said they left their country due to conflict, arbitrary killings, the threat of detention, drought and lack of work. Somalis account for half of the migrant flow and most have fled conflict in southern and central parts of the country, including Mogadishu, the capital. There are nearly 90,000 registered refugees in Yemen, almost all of them Somalis.

 

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