African immigrants facing death at sea [Archives:2006/1008/Local News]

December 18 2006

Amel Al-Ariqi
SANA'A, Dec, 16 ) Five Somalis and Ethiopian were beaten to death by smugglers and two others were shot by Yemeni security forces in separated incidents, according to the UNHCR this week.

According to the UNHCR, the beating incidents took place on Tuesday and Wednesday during their crossing from the Somali port of Bosaso to Yemen when the five Somalis and Ethiopians were savagely beaten to death and thrown overboard by Somali smugglers.

“Those killed were traveling with a group of 205 others in two boats. The bodies were later found by Yemeni fishermen and buried,” said UNHCR spokesperson William Spindler, in Geneva on Friday.

According to UNHCR the remaining passengers arrived in Yemen and were immediately picked up by the Yemeni authorities and detained. After interventions by UNHCR they were released 24 hours later.

“The authorities in Yemen appear to have become increasingly strict as they try to stop and control smuggling and illegal activities,” Spindler noted.

The shooting incident happened on Monday when Yemeni securities opened fire on two boats carrying 120 refugees. They killed two refugees.

UN refugee's agency deputy director for the region, Radhouane Nouicer, said the agency has asked Yemeni authorities to instruct the Coastguard to refrain from shooting at arriving boats.

“We are extremely concerned about this incident, where innocent civilians got hurt,” he said.

Other people on the boat told UNHCR staff that Yemeni armed forces starting shooting as passengers on the boat disembarked on a beach near the town of Belhaf in Shabwa. The fatalities are believed to be one Somali passenger and one smuggler.

The remaining smugglers on the boat – who were in possession of a gun, according to the passengers – then decided to head back to sea with about 60 people still on board, before later dropping the passengers further along the coast near Jila'a.

The two groups were taken to UNHCR's reception centre in Mayfa'a area, where they received food and medical assistance, and are recovering from their traumatic experiences.

A source at the Coastguard confessed that Yemeni securities mostly arrest the arrivals and send the Somalis to refugee camps in Mayfa'a in Shabwa or Khraz in Lahj governorate and hold the Ethiopians and contact their embassy in Yemen to deport them.

“We consider Somalis as refugees whereas Ethiopians are not,” he said, adding that he did not have knowledge of the shooting.

UNHCR continues to appeal to the Yemeni authorities to keep its doors open for people fearing persecution in their own country. It has offered to help screen new arrivals to ensure that refugees among them will be detected and not deported. Yemen has not taken up this offer.

Earlier this month UNHCR urged Yemen to reconsider the imminent deportation of a group of 122 Ethiopians.

Close to 23,000 people have been recorded arriving in Yemen from Somalia during this year's sailing season, which began in September. But at least 360 people have died making the perilous journey and more than 150 are missing, according to UNHCR records.

Most of the recent arrivals are from southern and central Somalia and said they fled because of increased suppression by the Islamic Courts that control large swaths of Somalia, including the capital city Mogadishu. They reported that women are not allowed to work and some say militia forces, previously controlled by warlords, are the same people now operating under the Islamic Courts.

They also cited an increase in tribal and clan conflict and said they feared for their lives. The UNHCR point out the increase number of families, rather than single men, arriving from Somalia.

There are currently more than 88,000 registered refugees in Yemen, of which 84,000 are Somalis.