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Africa: UN - 1,400 Citizen Drowned Off Yemen

Source: This Day (Lagos)

Gboyega Akinsanmi With Agency Reports

Intensive search conducted by United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) revealed yesterday that nearly 200 African migrants died in a boat mishap that occurred off Yemen, a Middle East country through which desperate Africans cross to European countries.

The UN humanitarian institution also noted in a report released yesterday that more than 1,400 would-be African migrants, mostly from Somalia, Ethiopia and other countries on the continent had drowned to death, died off the coast of Yemen this year while making attempts to cross the Gulf of Aden on rickety boats run by brutal smugglers.

According to the report, the toll includes nearly 200 people believed to have died last weekend after one vessel capsized off the coast of Yemen and another broke up after hitting a rock. Desperate passengers had been beaten, pushed overboard and doused with acid on perilous journeys during 2007, according to aid workers who were trying to halt further loss of life.

UNHCR spokesperson, Ms Astrid van Genderen Stort, at a briefing yesterday said: "This has been a tragic year in the Gulf of Aden. As of now we have statistics that more than 1,400 people have died. These are the ones that we have recorded, and there might be more."Survivors on the boat told us that while the sea was rough, the smugglers were even rougher. They were beating passengers harshly. A male passenger who could not stand the beating any longer had jumped overboard and drowned before the accident.

The survivors of the second boat told us that the traffickers were violent with them during the trip. The passengers were violently roughed up and one man, who could not bear the beating any longer, jumped overboard and drowned.

This year has been a particularly tragic year as more than 1,400 would-be immigrants died in their dangerous Gulf of Aden journey to Yemen. Most of the victims were Somalis or Ethiopians trying to flee conflict or economic hardships in their countries," she said.

Genderen said the number of boats leaving Somalia rose in September and October, due to insecurity in the Horn of Africa country, but has dropped since as a result of more frequent patrols by the Yemeni security operatives and coast guard.

Relief partners warned people on the continent about the dangers of the journey. But many of those fleeing, according to the relief partners, say conditions in their homeland are so bad that they have nothing left to lose and are willing to take the risk.

Geneva-based relief agency also said some 28,300 people leaving Northern Somalia, mainly Somalis and Ethiopians, had made it to Yemen's shores on 300 boats this year alone while nearly 29,000 made it last year. At least, 328 died and 310 went missing.

Mr. Louise Arbour, a top United Nations human rights official, said yesterday at the International Migrants Day that Yemen had been an route for desperate Africans to escape armed hostilities, deepening poverty and social miseries threatening their lives and futures.

He added that žmany Africans consider Yemen a gateway to other parts of the Middle East and the West.Ó He said those seeking refuge or work abroad often all prey to abuse.

"Migrants are among the groups most exposed to human rights violations in the 21st century and will continue to be so if we do not act now with serious determination," Arbour said in a statement marking International Migrants Day yesterday.

Reuters however reported that aid agencies žare stepping up their information campaigns for migrants and asylum seekers, warning them of the dangers on the journey from Bossasso, a major human smuggling hot-spot in Somalia's semi-autonomous Puntland administration.

In the latest incident which occurred last Sunday, a boat with 270 people aboard hit a rock off Yemen while the smugglers tried to avoid the coast guard. At least 173 people made it to shore after the vessel broke into three pieces, but many were feared drowned.

Somalia: Deadly Migration to Yemen Continues, Despite Risks
UN Integrated Regional Information Networks


Somali and Ethiopian migrants continue to set out to Yemen from Somalia's self-declared autonomous region of Puntland, despite the deadly risks and warnings from aid agencies, local sources told IRIN on 21 December.

"As we speak, there is a boat getting ready to depart for Yemen with about 200 migrants," said Abdirazaq Omar Osman, a journalist in Bosasso, the Puntland commercial capital.

He said the boat would most likely leave on 21 December "if it has not already left."

A week earlier at least 100 migrants died trying to reach Yemen.

"There were two boats that left Puntland on 9 and 10 December. Both capsized and many, if not most, of those on board perished," said Osman, who visited one of the beach ports used by the smugglers.

He said reports reaching Bosasso indicate that 60 passengers in one boat and 50 in the other had died, "with many missing and presumed dead."

He said the smugglers were using bigger but older boats from Yemen. "These are boats owned by Yemenis but operated by their Somali partners."

Each migrant is charged US $70 for the trip.

On 19 December, the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, said: "One out of every 20 people who set out in rickety boats across the Gulf of Aden this year has perished."

These are desperate people who will do anything to better their lives

The agency said at least 28,000 people had made the perilous voyage to Yemen in 2007. Of that number, "more than 1,400 have died, killed by smugglers or drowned at sea."

UNHCR has begun an advocacy campaign in the Horn of Africa region to inform potential migrants about the perils of crossing illegally into Yemen.

Osman said awareness-raising campaigns for potential migrants were useful but would not deter many.

"It may work with Somalis from the south, who are more likely to stay in Somalia if they get some help, but I doubt very much if it will have any effect on the more desperate ones from Ethiopia," he said. "These are desperate people who will do anything to better their lives. They listen to the odd ones who makes it to Saudi Arabia and think they also can make it."

Since Yemen itself offers few job prospects for the migrants, most head on to Saudi Arabia or other Gulf states, where the demand for menial labour is much greater.

[ This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations ]

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