More boat smuggling, more victims drowning [Archives:2007/1067/Front Page]

July 12 2007

By: Amel Al-Ariqi
SANA'A, July 11 ) For the first six months of this year, the UN refugee agency recorded the arrival of 77 smuggling boats carrying more than 8,600 African asylum seekers and migrants to the Yemeni coast.

Although these figures are below those equivalent statistics from the first half of 2006, when over 11,700 people made the journey, the trip has become more deadly; at least 367 people have been killed so far this year, compared to 266 for the same period last year.

The UN refugees agency confirmed that many of those who lost their lives – after paying about US$50 to make the perilous voyage – were forced by ruthless smugglers to disembark offshore, while still in deep water and drowned trying to swim to shore. Others were beaten to death by club-wielding smugglers, or attacked by sharks after being thrown overboard. Many bodies were buried on Yemeni beaches by local fishermen.

Jennifer Pagonis, UNHCR spokesperson , told reporters in Geneva in Tuesday that the flow across the Gulf of Aden “to seek safety or a better life has temporarily halted because seas are too rough to make the crossing in July and August.”

However, the refugee agency fears things will get worse when the sailing season resumes in September. “I expect that the situation after the temporary lull will continue to be bad, if not worse,” said Adel Jasmin United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees representative in Yemen. “I have little reason to believe that the number of arrivals will decrease after the summer,” he added.

Still, each year between September and the following June, “irregular travel to Yemen has also become increasingly difficult as a result of increased crackdowns on smugglers in Somalia's Bosaso region and heightened security patrols along the Yemen coastline. Smugglers simply started taking new routes to Yemen. Various new drop-off points were identified along the 400-kilometre coastline, turning the voyage into a three-day ordeal rather than two.

Radhouane Nouicer, director of UNHCR's Middle East and North Africa bureau commented “You can only imagine how desperate people must be to brave such a rough and risky journey to reach the other side. But this also goes to show how misled and exploited they are by the smugglers, and how much more has to be done to make sure they are better informed,”

In 2006, UNHCR presented a Ten-Point Plan of Action on Refugee Protection and Mixed Migration that sets out a number of measures to assist states in dealing with the problem.

“The solution lies not only in cracking down on smugglers, but also on tackling the root causes of persecution, poverty and conflict that prompt irregular movers to leave their homes.” Said Jennifer Pagonis, adding that

Countries receiving migrants should have more help in managing the inflows so that people who need protection can get it and those who do not can return home safely. She also stressed that anyone in distress at sea should be rescued, allowed to disembark and given access to proper screening procedures upon arrival.

For all of 2006, nearly 29,000 people were recorded arriving in Yemen in 237 boats. At least 328 people died and 310 were recorded as missing for the year.