Record number of African refugees and migrants cross the Gulf of Aden in 2012

Briefing Notes, 15 January 2013

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 15 January 2013, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

A record 107,500 African refugees and migrants made the dangerous journey from the Horn of Africa to Yemen in 2012. This is the largest influx into Yemen since 2006 when UNHCR began compiling these statistics. The previous record high was in 2011 when more than 103,000 people arrived in Yemen by sea.

Eight of every ten arrivals last year were Ethiopian nationals (over 84,000 arrivals), while Somali refugees constituted the rest. Many migrants use Yemen as a transit stop en route to other Gulf States.

Despite economic and security difficulties, Yemen has 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 in Yemen, partly due to a lack of awareness and access to asylum mechanisms, or 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, our teams and our Yemeni partners do daily patrols of the beaches 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 packed beyond capacity and smugglers, in order to avoid the Yemeni coast guard, force passengers into the water, often far from the shores and with tragic consequences. Some exhausted passengers are unable to swim and drown. It's estimated that at least some 100 people drowned or went missing in various incidents and shipwrecks in the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea in 2012.

New arrivals also are exposed to exploitation, violence and sexual abuse. The situation is particularly difficult along the Red Sea coast where the strong network of smugglers and traffickers in Yemen and their counterparts at sea limits UNHCRs ability to reach new arrivals. Yemeni smugglers and traffickers are often waiting on the coast to receive new arrivals. Traffickers mainly target Ethiopian nationals looking to travel onwards to other Gulf states.

Conflict and instability in the north and south of the country have 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 criminal and armed gangs of smugglers and traffickers is an additional risk to our staff and staff of our implementing partners.

The continually growing mixed migration movement from the Horn of Africa is an issue affecting the region beyond Yemen. We welcome the decision of the authorities in 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 over 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 IDPs have returned to their areas of origin in Abyan governorate as the conflict subsided and the conditions improved. UNHCR has been advocating with the government and international community to ensure sustainability of these returns. In order to meet the needs of the returning IDPs, UNHCR airlifted from Kenya to Aden emergency relief items such as blankets, plastic sheets and sleeping mats on 30 December 2012. The airlift and the further assistance arriving by sea will assist some 30,000 most vulnerable Yemeni families to start anew.

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 7617
• DONATE NOW •

 

• GET INVOLVED • • STAY INFORMED •

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.

Drifting Towards Italy

Every year, Europe's favourite summer playground - the Mediterranean Sea - turns into a graveyard as hundreds of men, women and children drown in a desperate bid to reach European Union (EU) countries.

The Italian island of Lampedusa is just 290 kilometres off the coast of Libya. In 2006, some 18,000 people crossed this perilous stretch of sea - mostly on inflatable dinghies fitted with an outboard engine. Some were seeking employment, others wanted to reunite with family members and still others were fleeing persecution, conflict or indiscriminate violence and had no choice but to leave through irregular routes in their search for safety.

Of those who made it to Lampedusa, some 6,000 claimed asylum. And nearly half of these were recognized as refugees or granted some form of protection by the Italian authorities.

In August 2007, the authorities in Lampedusa opened a new reception centre to ensure that people arriving by boat or rescued at sea are received in a dignified way and are provided with adequate accommodation and medical facilities.

Drifting Towards Italy

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

Crossing the Gulf of Aden

Every year thousands of people in the Horn of Africa - mainly Somalis and Ethiopians - leave their homes out of fear or pure despair, in search of safety or a better life. They make their way over dangerous Somali roads to Bossaso in the northern semi-autonomous region of Puntland.

In this lawless area, smuggler networks have free reign and innocent and desperate civilians pay up to US$150 to make the perilous trip across the Gulf of Aden.

Some stay weeks on end in safe houses or temporary homes in Bossaso before they can depart. A sudden call and a departure in the middle of the night, crammed in small unstable boats. At sea, anything can happen to them - they are at the whim of smugglers. Some people get beaten, stabbed, killed and thrown overboard. Others drown before arriving on the beaches of Yemen, which have become the burial ground for hundreds who many of those who died en route.

Crossing the Gulf of Aden

Syrian Refugees: Desperate in LampedusaPlay video

Syrian Refugees: Desperate in Lampedusa

In the past year, more than 13,000 people have arrived by boat in Italy's Lampedusa Island on irregular migration routes. Many have died attempting the crossing. Young men from sub-Saharan Africa mix with families from Syria. All share the same dream - starting afresh in the security and stability of Europe.
Mexico: Fleeing Central American Gang ViolencePlay video

Mexico: Fleeing Central American Gang Violence

Tens of thousands of people make their way to Mexico on mixed migration routes every year. They include victims of gang violence who need protection.
Dialogue on Asylum & MigrationPlay video

Dialogue on Asylum & Migration

Delegates from about 70 nations recently met in Geneva and grappled with the complex issue of how to identify and better protect refugees who travel alongside irregular migrants on dangerous journeys in search of safety.