The United Nations refugee agency today voiced alarm at the growing number of deaths in the Gulf of Aden this year, noting that just this week 16 people have drowned and another five are missing – nearly all of them Somalis fleeing strife in their homeland – in two separate incidents.
According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), 89 people are known to have drowned in January and February alone – compared to 15 during the whole of 2010.
“We also note with the great concern the resurgence of violence and inhumane treatment by smugglers of the refugees, asylum-seekers, and migrants that they are transporting,” UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahecic told reporters in Geneva.
“The deadly record for the first three months is a stark manifestation of this trend,” he added.
The agency expressed concern after survivors from the latest incidents said that their cries for help while at sea to a nearby foreign naval ship and cargo vessel went unheeded.
“This is disturbing,” Mr. Mahecic stated. “UNHCR appeals to all shipmasters in the Gulf of Aden to uphold the long-standing tradition of rescue at sea and helping vessels in distress.”
On Wednesday a boat carrying 45 Somali refugees sank some two kilometres off the Yemeni shores near the town of Murais, more than 300 kilometres east of Aden, after it reportedly ran into heavy winds and rough seas. Fifteen of those on board are known to have drowned and five are missing, while 25 people managed to swim to shore.
The vessel approached the Yemeni coast in the afternoon of 12 April but the smugglers, fearing interception by the Yemeni Coast Guard, refused to approach the shore, said Mr. Mahecic.
“The passengers, who by then were dehydrated and hungry, began crying and shouting. Despite their appeals, the crew decided to stay out at sea til the morning. The tattered vessel ultimately sank in rough seas.”
The survivors say that during the voyage they saw a cargo vessel and foreign naval ship. Although the naval ship approached their boat, it ignored their cries for help, he reported.
In a separate incident, another boat that left from Somalia carrying 79 passengers – 77 Ethiopians and two Somalis – arrived off the coast of Yemen near Al-Kaida in Shabwa governorate on 13 April at around 6 a.m.
Mr. Mahecic said that the smugglers dropped anchor in a deep area and forced the passengers into the sea. An Ethiopian man succumbed to the heavy waves and drowned.
More than 6,500 Somalis and 18,800 Ethiopians have arrived in Yemen by boat so far this year, according to UNHCR.