Dozens die at Smugglers’ hands in the Gulf of Aden [Archives:2007/1086/Front Page]

September 17 2007

Amel Al-Ariqi
SANA'A, Sep ) 16 Over fifty African people have died violently at the hands of smugglers, while trying to make the perilous Gulf of Aden crossing from Somalia to Yemen, Said the UN refugee agency on Friday.

“At least 56 people have lost their lives trying to make the perilous Gulf of Aden crossing from Somalia to Yemen since the full resumption of the current sailing season in early September,” said the agency.

Since September 3, UN High Commissioner for Refugees' office in Yemen has recorded the arrival of 12 boats carrying 925 Somalis, Ethiopians and others. Two or three other boats were reported to have crossed the Gulf of Aden from mid to late August, but annual bad weather between June and the end of last month kept most smugglers off the high seas.

The arrivals told UNHCR staff earlier this week that they were beaten by smugglers during the trip and that 24 people had died – three as a result of beatings; 11 after being crammed into the hold of the boat; and 10 from drowning in waters offshore.

UNHCR questioning of earlier arrivals determined that at least another 32 people on three of the boats had lost their lives during crossings this month.

“The smugglers are ruthless, as ruthless as they were last year. Unfortunately nothing has changed there. All they care about of course is getting the money for the trip and if you're lucky you'll actually make it to the other side. They pay an average of $70 to $150 and might not even make it to the other side,” a female survivor tolled the agency .

The survivors of the last boat also claimed that once they reached shore, they came under fire from military forces based in Yemen's Jalbad region. One Ethiopian was wounded and transferred for medical assistance by UNHCR.

Most of passengers were from volatile areas in Somalia and the increasingly unstable Ogaden region in Ethiopia. There were also two Sudanese among the group, and they expressed a desire to seek asylum in Yemen.

Another boat with 100 Somalis on board apparently failed to reach Yemen after encountering problems during the voyage, and spent six days adrift in the shark-infested waters.

Those passengers who made it back to Somalia told the UNHCR that many of them had been beaten, with some reportedly doused with acid by the smugglers.

“The bodies of those who did not survive the six-day ordeal were reportedly thrown overboard. We do not have the numbers of those who died there