Smugglers force African migrants into sea [Archives:2007/1037/Local News]

March 29 2007

By: Amel Al-Areqi
SANA'A, March, 27) At least 29 illegal African migrants have died, and 100 still missing after smugglers forced them at knife-point to jump into the sea off the coast of Yemen, the UN refugee agency said Monday.

The incident, which took place last Thursday, was the latest case of smuggler violence involving boats carrying people across the Gulf of Aden from Somalia and the Horn of Africa. It brings the total number of dead and missing among people trying to reach Yemen so far this year to 264.

“We are horrified by this latest tragedy,'' said Erika Feller, the UNHCR's Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, adding “The victims are people who are desperate to escape persecution, violence and poverty in the Horn of Africa,''

Saeed Abdulkader Othman, field worker in UNHCR Reception Center in Shabwa said that that four smugglers' boats carrying about 450 passengers approached coastline at 3 a.m. Yemen local time on Thursday, in rough seas and strong currents. The smugglers forced passengers onboard to disembark far from shore and those who resisted were stabbed and beaten with wooden and steel clubs, then thrown overboard.

“The local residents of the area, where the bodies were found, buried the victims. Most of them were women,” confirmed Othman, adding that most of the missing people are Ethiopians.

UNHCR press release quoted survivors that several Ethiopian women and at least one Somali were raped and abused by the smugglers during the voyage from Bosaso in Somalia to Yemen. Survivors also alleged that some Yemeni security forces confiscated their money once they crossed the Gulf of Aden and reached shore.

The press release said authorities estimated that 74 Ethiopians and 26 Somalis were either dead or missing. Another 57 Ethiopians reportedly reached shore and quickly dispersed, fearing detention by security forces. The remaining survivors went to Reception Centre, where they received medical assistance and other aid. “Group of the survivors could reach the center to inform us about this tragedy. We directly moved to the area and brought the rest to the center where we registered them and drove them to Khraz camp” Othman added.

Sadat Mohammed, consoler in Refugee Affairs in the Somali Community exposed his fear to IRIN, saying that this year will witness horrible tragedies of people crossing the Gulf of Aden to seek refuge in Yemen, especially in the absence of political reconciliation in Somalia. He expected many more deaths with the advent of bad sailing weather in April.

Last week, UNHCR said in a statement that 1,100 Somalis and Ethiopians had arrived in Yemen since 17 March, and that at least 28 of them had died from asphyxiation, beatings or drowning – and many were badly injured by the smugglers.

The latest tragedy occurred just after Assistant High Commissioner Feller's mission to Yemen with the Director of UNHCR's Middle East and North Africa Bureau, Radhouane Nouicer. During her visit, Feller confirmed that UNHCR will ask donor countries to raise funds for the country as resources for refugees there were not sufficient. UNHCR's annual budget for Yemen is US $4.7 million, which is considered the second largest annual budget for UNHCR in the Middle East, after its budget for Iraq

According to UNHCR records 26,000 people made the perilous voyage across the Gulf of Aden last year, and that at least 330 died. Other 300 were reported missing and believed dead. Since the beginning of this year, at least 4,400 people have landed on the Yemeni coast and at least 166 people have died. Many remain missing.