21 more refugees drown, 80 missing [Archives:2003/669/Front Page]

September 18 2003

NAIROBI, Sept. 15 ) At least 21 refugees drowned in the Gulf of Aden after they and dozens of others were forced off a boat at gunpoint by smugglers on a voyage from the Horn of Africa to Yemen, a U.N. official said on Monday.
Eighty people who had been among the more than 150 on board were still missing, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesman Rupert Colville said, adding only 55 survivors of last week's incident had been found so far.
“The majority of the people (on the boat) were Ethiopians – all except 14. Yemeni authorities have now picked up 21 bodies, 19 are Ethiopians and two are Somalis,'' Colville told Reuters.
He said the boat had left a small Somali fishing village on September 9. Two days later, the smugglers began beating passengers and forcing them overboard at gunpoint.
“They (the smugglers) panicked and become extremely ruthless and threw everyone out,'' Colville said. ''There are about 55 survivors but there seems to be 80 people still missing, all of them Ethiopians.''
He said it was unusual that so many of those on board were Ethiopians as most fleeing Africa on that route were Somalis.
The UNHCR said 30 Somali refugees were forced overboard by armed smugglers last month as they approached the southern coast of the Arab state. Only 18 reached the shore, the agency said.
Many Somalis pay gangs to smuggle them to Yemen in a bid to escape years of fighting in their country which disintegrated into anarchy in 1991.
Ethiopian migrants generally leave their homes in search of better economic prospects. The UNHCR estimates there are more than 70,000 refugees in Yemen, mostly Somalis. The Yemeni government puts the figure at more than 165,000.