A record 107,500 people reach Yemen in 2012 after risky sea crossing

News Stories, 15 January 2013

© SHS
Aid workers from a UNHCR partner organization help people who have just reached the Yemeni shore by boat.

GENEVA, January 15 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency announced on Tuesday that some 107,500 African refugees and migrants made the perilous sea journey from the Horn of Africa to Yemen in 2012, the largest such influx since UNHCR began compiling these statistics in 2006. The previous record high was in 2011, when more than 103,000 people arrived in Yemen on smugglers' boats.

Some 84,000, or more than 80 per cent, of the arrivals were Ethiopian nationals, while Somali refugees constituted the rest. Many migrants use Yemen as a transit stop en route to states in the Persian Gulf.

Despite economic and security difficulties last year, Yemen continued to receive and host a record number of people fleeing the Horn of Africa in search of safety, protection and better economic conditions. All Somali arrivals are automatically recognized as refugees by Yemeni authorities.

UNHCR conducts refugee status determination for Ethiopians and other nationalities seeking asylum in Yemen. A very low percentage of Ethiopian arrivals decide to seek asylum, either due to a lack of awareness and access to asylum mechanisms or because they do not meet the criteria to be recognized as refugees. However, for the vast majority of Ethiopian migrants protection space is nearly non-existent and they are often extremely vulnerable.

In Yemen, staff from UNHCR and its local partners conduct daily patrols along the Gulf of Aden coast to provide assistance to all new arrivals that pass through strategically positioned reception and transit centres. However, there are substantial difficulties in responding to the various protection risks that new arrivals face in transit and upon arrival in Yemen.

Boats crossing to Yemen are often overcrowded and smugglers, in order to avoid the Yemeni coastguard, sometimes force the passengers into the water, often far from the shore and in stormy weather. UNHCR estimates that at least 100 people have drowned or gone missing while trying to cross the Gulf of Aden or the Red Sea in 2012.

New arrivals are at risk of exploitation, violence and sexual abuse. The situation is particularly difficult along the Red Sea coast, where Yemeni smugglers and traffickers are often waiting to receive new arrivals. Traffickers mainly target Ethiopians looking to travel onwards to Persian Gulf states.

Conflict and instability in the north and south of the country has curbed the ability of Yemeni authorities to address trafficking. In 2012, there was a proliferation in smuggling and trafficking and a significant increase in reported cases of violence and abuse perpetrated against new arrivals. The increased presence of armed gangs of smugglers and traffickers is an additional risk to aid workers.

"The continually growing mixed migration movement from the Horn of Africa is an issue affecting the region beyond Yemen," UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards said in Geneva on Tuesday. "We welcome the decision of the authorities in [the Yemen capital] Sana'a to host a regional conference this year with UNHCR as part of wider efforts to develop a strategy to manage the flow of mixed migrants, and prevent and reduce smuggling and trafficking in the region."

Yemen is a historic transit hub for migrants and stands out in the region for its hospitality towards refugees. The country currently hosts more than 236,000 refugees, virtually all of them of Somali origin. There are also more than 300,000 internally displaced Yemeni civilians in the north due to recurring conflict since 2004.

Meanwhile, in the south, more than 100,000 internally displaced people have returned to their areas of origin in Abyan governorate as the conflict subsided and conditions improved. UNHCR has been advocating with the government and international community to ensure the sustainability of these returns.

On December 30, the UN refugee agency airlifted emergency relief items to Aden, including blankets, plastic sheets and sleeping mats for the returnees. The aid and further assistance arriving by sea will help some 30,000 vulnerable Yemeni families.

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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.

Mixed Migration

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

Flood Airdrop in Kenya

Over the weekend, UNHCR with the help of the US military began an emergency airdrop of some 200 tonnes of relief supplies for thousands of refugees badly hit by massive flooding in the Dadaab refugee camps in northern Kenya.

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.

Posted in December 2006

Flood Airdrop in Kenya

New Arrivals in Yemen

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.

New Arrivals in Yemen

The Gulf of Aden: Sharp Rise in Crossings and Deaths

The number of people arriving on the coast of Yemen after being smuggled across the treacherous Gulf of Aden from the Horn of Africa has more than doubled this year. So far this year, more than 18,000 people have arrived in Yemen across the Gulf of Aden, and nearly 400 have died attempting the journey.

This surge in arrivals is largely due to the continuing conflict in Somalia and the use of new smuggling routes from Somalia to Yemen and across the Red Sea from Djibouti. Many of the new arrivals also tell of crop losses due to drought, which forced them to leave home. This photo set focuses on those people leaving from Djibouti.

UNHCR has been calling for increased action to save lives in the Gulf of Aden and other waters. We have stepped up our work in Yemen under a US$17 million operation that includes extra staff, provision of additional shelter and assistance, and protection for refugees and internally displaced people.

Posted on 20 May 2008

The Gulf of Aden: Sharp Rise in Crossings and Deaths

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