Somalis perish in new boat disaster in Gulf of Aden

Briefing Notes, 10 February 2012

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 10 February 2012, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

At least 11 people have drowned and another 34 are missing following a boat incident this week in the Gulf of Aden. Survivors found on Somali beaches on Wednesday evening explained that their boat, crewed by three smugglers and carrying 58 passengers, had set sail for Yemen last Saturday (04 February). Soon after departure, the boat's engine broke down. Without power, they were adrift for five days. The boat ultimately capsized on Wednesday in rough seas and bad weather.

Shocking details came to light yesterday (Thursday) as survivors recounted to local authorities and our partners how smugglers forced 22 passengers overboard soon after the engine failed.

UNHCR is deeply saddened by the tragic loss of life. Authorities in the Somali port town of Bossaso are investigating the incident and we hope that the perpetrators will be brought to justice.

So far, 11 bodies have been recovered on beaches around the village of Ceelaayo some 30 kilometers west of Bossaso. Locals also found 13 survivors, including two women and a teenage boy and girl. Our partners, in coordination with the local authorities, organized the transport of these people from the village of Qaw to Bossaso for medical treatment. Most of them are suffering from skin burns caused by fuel inside the boat.

Every year tens of thousands of Somalis and Ethiopians fleeing violence, human rights abuses and poverty in the Horn of Africa pay smugglers to ferry them across the Gulf of Aden to Yemen. Many never make it, as the boats capsize or smugglers beat some of the passengers to death, force them overboard, or disembark people too far from shores.

To alert people planning to cross the Red Sea or the Gulf of Aden, UNHCR teamed up in 2009 with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and other partners to spread awareness about the dangers. But people still keep making the perilous crossing.

Despite growing instability and worsening security in Yemen, a record 103,000 refugees, asylum seekers and migrants from the Horn of Africa made the journey across the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea in 2011.

For further information on this topic, please contact:

  • In Kenya, UNHCR Somalia Office: Andy Needham on mobile +254 733 120 931
  • In Geneva: Andrej Mahecic on mobile +41 79 200 7617
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UNHCR Central Mediterranean Sea Initiative (CMSI)

EU solidarity for rescue-at-sea and protection of Asylum Seekers and Migrants.

Rescue at Sea on the Mediterranean

Every year tens of thousands of people risk their lives by crossing the Mediterranean on overcrowded and often unseaworthy boats in a bid to reach Europe. Many of them are fleeing violence and persecution and are in need of international protection. Thousands die every year trying to make it to places like Malta or Italy's tiny Lampedusa Island. It took the loss of some 600 people in boat sinkings last October to focus world attention on this humanitarian tragedy. Italy has since launched a rescue-at-sea operation using naval vessels, which have saved more than 10,000 people. Photographer Alfredo D'Amato, working with UNHCR, was on board the San Giusto, flagship of the Italian rescue flotilla, when rescued people were transferred to safety. His striking images follow.

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In a spectacular sight, 16 tonnes of plastic sheeting, mosquito nets, tents and blankets, were dropped on each run from the C-130 transport plane onto a site cleared of animals and people. Refugees loaded the supplies on trucks to take to the camps.

Dadaab, a three-camp complex hosting some 160,000 refugees, mainly from Somalia, has been cut off from the world for a month by heavy rains that washed away the road connecting the remote camps to the Kenyan capital, Nairobi. Air transport is the only way to get supplies into the camps.

UNHCR has moved 7,000 refugees from Ifo camp, worst affected by the flooding, to Hagadera camp, some 20 km away. A further 7,000 refugees have been moved to higher ground at a new site, called Ifo 2.

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During one six-day period at the end of March, more than 1,100 Somalis and Ethiopians arrived on the shores of Yemen after crossing the Gulf of Aden on smuggler's boats from Bosaso, Somalia. At least 28 people died during these recent voyages – from asphyxiation, beating or drowning – and many were badly injured by the smugglers. Others suffered skin problems as a result of prolonged contact with sea water, human waste, diesel oil and other chemicals.

During a recent visit to Yemen, UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner for Protection Erika Feller pledged to further raise the profile of the situation, to appeal for additional funding and international action to help Yemen, and to develop projects that will improve the living conditions and self sufficiency of the refugees in Yemen.

Since January 2006, Yemen has received nearly 30,000 people from Somalia, Ethiopia and other places, while more than 500 people have died during the sea crossing and at least 300 remain missing. UNHCR provides assistance, care and housing to more than 100,000 refugees already in Yemen.

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