The United Nations refugee agency said today that 16 people lost their lives and 49 others are missing and presumed dead in three separate smuggling incidents in the Gulf of Aden over the last two days.
“UNHCR staff in Yemen report an increasing number of larger smuggling vessels making the journey across the Gulf of Aden, which puts more lives at risk,” Melissa Fleming, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, told reporters in Geneva.
A host of reasons from civil war, political instability, famine and poverty in the Horn of Africa have led thousands to make the perilous voyage to Yemen in smugglers’ boats every year.
So far this year, a total of 860 boats and 43,586 people have made that journey, Ms. Fleming said, adding that some 273 people have drowned or are missing at sea and presumed dead.
According to survivors of the first incident, which took place early Sunday off the coast of Radfan in Yemen, one person was reported to have suffocated in the engine room of the boat while others were reportedly beaten and threatened by the smugglers.
The vessel, which left from the Somali town of Elayo last Thursday, capsized as the smuggling crew jumped overboard after being unable to fix an engine failure.
Ms. Fleming said 98 people managed to swim ashore while 43 others are missing and presumed dead.
The second incident involved a boat reportedly carrying 112 Africans, of whom three were reportedly beaten to death by the smugglers and another 10 died due to asphyxiation. The boat reached Yemen on Sunday morning after having left Somalia last Thursday.
In the third incident, a European Union warship rescued 38 people from a small boat that was sinking in deep waters. The boat was originally carrying 46 people, according to survivors. Rescue helicopters launched from the EU vessel spotted two bodies in nearby waters. Another six people are missing and presumed drowned.
The rescued passengers were allowed to disembark this morning at the Yemeni port of Mulkalla, said Ms. Fleming.
Meanwhile, UN human rights chief Navi Pillay today said the millions of people who risk their lives and safety in order to cross international boundaries in search of a better life present one of the most serious human rights problems in the world today.
“Countless migrants fall prey to human traffickers who prosper the most where government scrutiny is at its weakest,” she told the 12th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. “States have an obligation to respect, protect and fulfil a wide range of human rights of all individuals under their jurisdiction, including all migrants, regardless of their immigration status.
Ms. Pillay accused authorities and ships of violating international law when they reject or ignore the pleas of migrants stranded at sea.
“In many cases, authorities reject these migrants and leave them to face hardship and peril, if not death, as though they were turning away ships laden with dangerous waste. Their fate is thus sealed as they try to cross the Mediterranean, the Gulf of Aden, the Caribbean, the Indian Ocean, and other stretches of water.
“In clear violation of international law, they are abandoned and rejected without proper check of whether they are fleeing persecution. All too often migrants and refugees encounter the same callous rejections at land borders,” she noted.