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Surge in number of migrant boats – and deaths – in Gulf of Aden, UN reports

Surge in number of migrant boats – and deaths – in Gulf of Aden, UN reports

The number of migrants making the hazardous journey across the Gulf of Aden to Yemen has spiked this year, but so too has the number of deaths, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported today.

In the first two months of this year, 182 boats carrying 8,713 people arrived in Yemen, with at least 113 people perishing during the voyage and over 200 missing and presumed dead, UNHCR spokesperson Ron Redmond told reporters in Geneva.

Two dozen boats with 2,946 people crossed the Gulf of Aden in the first two months of 2007, with 139 people losing their lives and 19 having gone missing.

The surge in crossings this year is partly a result of the use of new smuggling routes, with smugglers having started bringing people across the Red Sea from Djibouti, as well as the more traditional route from Somalia.

Although some routes are new, the smugglers’ tactics have not changed, with people paying an average of between $130 and $150 to travel on small, fast boats, while those making the journey on crowded, bigger vessels spend between $50 and $70. The voyage can take from 12 to 36 hours, depending on the weather, as well as the smugglers’ knowledge of the water conditions and routes.

Passengers are sometimes forced overboard or an alternate route is taken if smugglers encounter patrol boats or see coast guards upon arrival.

“The armed smugglers are often brutal,” Mr. Redmond noted, with smugglers last month on two boats, together carrying more than 300 people, forcing passengers to disembark in deep and rough waters. A total of 182 people safely reached the shore, while 36 drowned and 84 others remain missing.

“The new arrivals told us that the smugglers had severely beaten the passengers on the boat and taken their money and clothes by force,” he added. “One person – severely traumatized by the beating – jumped overboard and drowned.”

An additional three people died from asphyxiation and dehydration, and others had also been stabbed. All of the injured were tended to by staff at UNHCR’s May’fa reception centre in Yemen.

The agency has been appealing for bolstered efforts to prevent deaths in the Gulf of Aden and other bodies of water. Since last year, it has stepped up its work in Yemen as part of a $7 million operation by providing extra staff and more shelter for refugees in the Kharaz camp.