Mixed migration flow from the Horn of Africa reaches new record levels

Briefing Notes, 18 May 2012

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahecic to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 18 May 2012, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

A record number of African refugees and migrants are arriving in Yemen this year. More than 43,000 people reached Yemen's shores in the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea in the first four months of 2012 alone. During the same period last year almost 30,000 people made the same perilous journey. In total, more than 103,000 people from the Horn of Africa arrived in Yemen in 2011 a record number since UNHCR began compiling these statistics in 2006. Should the current trend continue, 2012 would sadly become another record year.

The striking increase in the overall number of the new arrivals in Yemen reflects the growing Ethiopian population on the move. Today, three out of four people making the crossing to Yemen are Ethiopian nationals. Four years ago, Somali refugees constituted three quarters of all arrivals in Yemen.

All those who decide to make the crossing expose themselves to extreme risks and dangers at every stage of their journey. They face shocking levels of abuse and violence by smugglers, as well as arbitrary arrests and detention, closed borders and forced returns, trafficking, lack of access to shelter, water, food or medical assistance. Most of these people board rickety boats on the beaches near the port towns of Obock in Djibouti or Bossaso in Somalia. Those who ultimately reach Yemen often arrive exhausted, dehydrated, malnourished and in a state of shock.

All Somali arrivals are automatically recognized as refugees in Yemen and thus have access to documentation and enjoy relatively unhindered freedom of movement. UNHCR maintains a well-established network of transit and reception centres along Yemen's Gulf of Aden coastline, while along the hundreds of kilometres of Yemen's Red Sea coast it is becoming increasingly difficult to reach new arrivals due to security constraints and limited access.

The situation is profoundly different and more difficult for Ethiopian nationals. Few Ethiopians decide to seek asylum upon arrival to Yemen. Many cite lack of prospects and dire economic situation compounded by drought as the key reasons for making the move. To avoid detention and deportation, they attempt to evade contact with the authorities. Insecurity in Yemen has also led to a proliferation in smuggling and trafficking activities. Once ashore in Yemen, they are picked up on the beaches by criminal groups involved in trafficking and smuggling of people to other Gulf states.

We note with concern that there are persistent reports of violence and abuse as many Ethiopians migrants fall victims to robberies, abuse and extortion. For Ethiopian nationals who do not fall under the protection of the Refugee Convention, there is virtually no protection space. They are extremely vulnerable and often become easy prey for traffickers and smugglers. There have also been increasing cases reported to UNHCR involving the trafficking and abuse of Somali refugees and other nationalities.

Meanwhile, Yemen is also coping with a significant internal displacement as tens of thousands of civilians flee tribal clashes in the north and fighting between government troops and militant groups in the south. There are currently 470,000 registered IDPs in Yemen and an additional 95,000 are estimated to have been displaced this year in the north and the south of the country.

This year, UNHCR is seeking US$60 million to address the protection and humanitarian needs of some 220,000 refugees and almost half a million internally displaced people (IDPs) in Yemen. So far we have received a third of required funds. We hope that both government and private donors will respond adequately and in timely manner, thus allowing UNHCR to meet the existing needs of refugees and IDPs in Yemen.

For more information on this topic, please contact:

  • In Yemen, Edward Leposky on mobile +967 71 222 4022
  • In Geneva, Andrej Mahecic on mobile: +41 79 200 76 17



UNHCR country pages

Refugee Protection and Mixed Migration: A 10-Point Plan of Action

A UNHCR strategy setting out key areas in which action is required to address the phenomenon of mixed and irregular movements of people. See also: Schematic representation of a profiling and referral mechanism in the context of addressing mixed migratory movements.

International Migration

The link between movements of refugees and broader migration attracts growing attention.

Mixed Migration

Migrants are different from refugees but the two sometimes travel alongside each other.

Asylum and Migration

Asylum and Migration

All in the same boat: The challenges of mixed migration around the world.

Gulf of Aden People-Smuggling: International Help Needed

An alarming number of people are dying trying to reach Yemen aboard smugglers' boats crossing the Gulf of Aden from Somalia. Over a three-week period in late 2005, at least 150 people perished while making the journey. These deaths are frequently the result of overcrowded boats capsizing or breaking down and going adrift without food or water. Those who survive the voyage to Yemen often give brutal accounts of smugglers beating passengers or forcing them overboard while still far off shore – in some instances with their hands and feet bound.

In response, UNHCR has issued an urgent appeal for action to stem the flow of desperate Ethiopian and Somali refugees and migrants falling prey to ruthless smugglers in a bid to reach Yemen and beyond. The refugee agency has also been working with the authorities in Puntland, in north-eastern Somalia, on ways to inform people about the dangers of using smugglers to cross the Gulf of Aden. This includes production of videos and radio programmes to raise awareness among Somalis and Ethiopians of the risks involved in such crossings.

Gulf of Aden People-Smuggling: International Help Needed

2011 Yemen: Risking All for a Better Future

Plagued by violence, drought and poverty, thousands of people in the Horn of Africa leave their homes out of desperation every year. Seeking safety or a better life, these civilians - mainly Somalis and Ethiopians - make the dangerous journey through Somalia to the northern port of Bossaso.

Once there, they pay up to US$150 to make the perilous trip across the Gulf of Aden on smugglers' boats. They often wait for weeks in Bossaso's safe houses or temporary homes until a sudden call prompts their departure under the veil of night, crammed into small rickety boats.

Out at sea, they are at the whim of smugglers. Some passengers get beaten, stabbed, killed and thrown overboard. Others drown before reaching the beaches of Yemen, which have become the burial ground for hundreds of innocent people who die en route.

The Yemen-based Society for Humanitarian Solidarity (SHS) has been helping these people since 1995. On September 13, 2011 UNHCR announced that the NGO had won this year's Nansen Refugee Award for its tireless efforts to assist people arriving from the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea.

2011 Yemen: Risking All for a Better Future

Yemeni humanitarian aid group wins 2011 Nansen Refugee Award

The founder and staff of the Society for Humanitarian Solidarity (SHS), a humanitarian organization in Yemen, has won the 2011 Nansen Refugee Award for their work in aiding and rescuing refugees and migrants who make the dangerous sea journey across the Gulf of Aden from the Horn of Africa. View a slideshow of the group's life-saving work, patrolling the beaches of southern Yemen for new arrivals and providing food, shelter and medical care to those who survive the dangerous journey.

Yemeni humanitarian aid group wins 2011 Nansen Refugee Award

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