More than 46,000 people cross Gulf of Aden in first six months of the year

News Stories, 6 August 2013

Disembarkation of a new arrivals on two boats in the Hadramout district of Yemen.

GENEVA, August 6 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency on Tuesday said it was concerned by the growing number of people risking their lives to reach Yemen by boat from Africa after recording the arrival on the Yemeni coast of more than 46,000 refugees and migrants during the first six months of this year.

The number of asylum-seekers, refugees and migrants in Yemen has been rising for the past six years. Last year, a record 107,500 people made the journey. And while numbers are lower so far this year 46,417 from January through June, compared to 56,146 for the same period in 2012 the number of arrivals is significant. Since 2006, close to half-a-million people have arrived in Yemen through mixed-migration movements.

"We have witnessed a significant change in the refugee and migrant population arriving in Yemen over the past two years, with more Ethiopians making the crossing and citing the difficult situation at home," UNHCR's chief spokesperson, Melissa Fleming, told journalists in Geneva on Tuesday.

Previously, Somali refugees made up between one-third and one-quarter of total arrivals. Of the people who arrived in Yemen in the first half of this year, 38,827 (84 per cent) are Ethiopian, while 7,559 (16 per cent) are Somali.

Most of the new arrivals reached Yemen in February-March and across the Red Sea. Of the total, 34,875 arrived via the Red Sea and mainly in Lahij Governorate. The other 11,542 arrived via the Arabian Sea mainly in Hadramout Governorate.

Refugees and migrants are vulnerable to exploitation, violence and sexual abuse at all stages of their journeys. Boats crossing the Arabian Sea or Red Sea to Yemen are often overcrowded. Smugglers may force passengers into the water to avoid detection. Smugglers and traffickers often wait on the coast to receive the new arrivals.

The Yemeni authorities recognize Somali arrivals as refugees automatically. UNHCR determines the refugee status of Ethiopians and other nationals. Though few Ethiopians seek asylum partly because most want to travel on beyond Yemen or they don't know how the asylum process works. As a result, most Ethiopians are left extremely vulnerable.

There are positive developments. The number of dead or missing refugees and migrants has dropped significantly to five people so far this year from 43 in all of 2012. And in Yemen, a traditional transit hub for migrants and a country hosting more than 240,000 refugees, migration monitoring is relatively well managed. Yemeni authorities have also enjoyed some success in locating smugglers' and traffickers' bases and cracking down on their operations.

While UNHCR remains concerned by the continued high numbers of asylum-seekers and migrants arriving in Yemen from the Horn of Africa, the agency is also engaged with the Yemeni government and national and international partners. "Together we are working to enhance services offered to refugees, asylum seekers and migrants as well as find sustainable solutions," Fleming said.

UNHCR and its partners, such as the Yemen Red Crescent Society and the Danish Refugee Council, work daily to record new arrivals and offer them support. That help takes many forms, including food and water, first aid and transportation to transit and reception centres hot meals, welcome packages including blankets and clothing, accommodation and counselling.




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Zero-Star "Hotel" that Asylum-Seekers Call Home in Dijon

France is one of the main destinations for asylum-seekers in Europe, with some 55,000 new asylum applications in 2012. As a result of the growing number of applicants, many French cities are facing an acute shortage of accommodation for asylum-seekers.

The government is trying to address the problem and, in February 2013, announced the creation of 4,000 additional places in state-run reception centres for asylum-seekers. But many asylum-seekers are still forced to sleep rough or to occupy empty buildings. One such building, dubbed the "Refugee Hotel" by its transient population, lies on the outskirts of the eastern city of Dijon. It illustrates the critical accommodation situation.

The former meat-packing plant is home to about 100 asylum-seekers, mostly from Chad, Mali and Somalia, but also from Georgia, Kosovo and other Eastern European countries. Most are single men, but there are also two families.

In this dank, rat-infested empty building, the pipes leak and the electricity supply is sporadic. There is only one lavatory, two taps with running water, no bathing facilities and no kitchen. The asylum-seekers sleep in the former cold-storage rooms. The authorities have tried to close the squat several times. These images, taken by British photographer Jason Tanner, show the desperate state of the building and depict the people who call it home.

Zero-Star "Hotel" that Asylum-Seekers Call Home in Dijon

Bonga Camp, Ethiopia

Bonga camp is located in the troubled Gambella region of western Ethiopia. But it remains untouched by the ethnic conflicts that have torn nearby Gambella town and Fugnido camp in the last year.

For Bonga's 17,000 Sudanese refugees, life goes on despite rumblings in the region. Refugee children continue with school and play while their parents make ends meet by supplementing UNHCR assistance with self-reliance projects.

Cultural life is not forgotten, with tribal ceremonies by the Uduk majority. Other ethnic communities – Shuluks, Nubas and Equatorians – are welcome too, judging by how well hundreds of newcomers have settled in after their transfer from Fugnido camp in late 2002.

Bonga Camp, Ethiopia

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

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