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UN refugee agency reports increase in people-smuggling through Gulf of Aden

UN refugee agency reports increase in people-smuggling through Gulf of Aden

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reports that the rate of smuggling boats reaching the shores of Yemen after crossing the Gulf of Aden has increased during the first half of October, along with the appalling death toll.

More than 38 smuggling boats – an average of three a day – have been recorded arriving along Yemen’s coast during the first 13 days of October, carrying nearly 3,800 people, UNHCR spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis told a news briefing in Geneva. A total of 38 people were known to have died while 134 remained missing.

“The new arrivals – both Somalis and Ethiopians – continue to tell us harrowing stories of their journeys – for which they pay between $50 and $150 – during which passengers are stabbed, beaten and thrown overboard by ruthless smugglers,” Ms. Pagonis said.

On 9 October, passengers on two of three boats travelling together told UNHCR officials they had been intercepted by a United States Navy vessel, stopped for 20 to 30 minutes, had photographs taken and were distributed with drinking water that was later confiscated by the crew of the boat.

These passengers reportedly arrived safely on shore, where the Yemeni navy was present and checked the belongings and pockets of the Somalis and Ethiopians – some of whom later reported that they were robbed of their money. The incident was reported to the security commander of the Nusheima area.

The passengers on the third boat informed UNHCR that when they neared the coast the crew started beating the passengers and forced them into deep water, causing the death of 10 male Ethiopians. Their bodies floated to the shore and were later buried on the coast, in Mayfa-Hajar.

The Somalis arriving on the boats are mainly from Mogadishu, Banadir region and Afgoi district of the lower Shabelle region, and say they left because of ongoing confrontations between the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and opposition forces, tribal fighting, unemployment, floods and droughts.

Poverty, famine, economic instability, lack of educational opportunities and political reasons were among the motives given by the Ethiopian arrivals for undertaking the arduous journey to Yemen.

According to the agency, a total of 18,757 people have crossed the Gulf of Aden by boat this year. An estimated 404 were known to have died while 393 remain missing. The exodus eased off in the summer due to rough seas but resumed again at the beginning of September.