More than 40 missing and feared drowned in latest Gulf of Aden boat tragedy

News Stories, 11 March 2014

© SHS
In this photo from 2012, staff of the Society for Humanitarian Solidarity, a vital UNHCR partner, help survivors to shore in Yemen.

GENEVA, March 11 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency on Tuesday said 44 people were missing and feared drowned after a smugglers' boat capsized off the coast of southern Yemen in what UNHCR described as the worst such incident this year.

Spokesman Adrian Edwards said UNHCR was "deeply saddened" by the boat accident in the Gulf of Aden involving refugees and migrants. The boat was reportedly carrying 77 men, women and children from Somalia (31) and Ethiopia (46). "Thirty-three people were rescued, but the remaining 44 are still missing and feared drowned," Edwards said.

The boat is reported to have departed early last Friday from Bossasso in Puntland on the north coast of Somalia. It ran into strong winds and high waves off the coast of the southern Yemeni governorate of Shabwa. According to one of the survivors, the boat quickly filled with water and capsized.

On Sunday morning a marine patrol by UNHCR partner organization, the Society for Humanitarian Solidarity (SHS), found a number of survivors. Thirty-two people were picked up by early afternoon, and one more later in the day. Other passengers remain missing.

Edwards said that all but one of the survivors was male. They were brought ashore at Majdaha by SHS staff and given first aid, food, water and clothing before being taken to a transit centre. "One 45-year-old man from southern Somalia said he has lost his two children in the tragedy, unable to reach them in the dark. The sole surviving woman lost her teenage daughter. She said the smugglers had refused to stop the boat when it began taking on water," Edwards added.

The tragedy is the most significant involving refugees and migrants crossing the sea to Yemen in the past year. The number of people making the perilous journey has been declining. From 107,532 arrivals in 2012 the number fell to 65,319 in 2013, and only 2,717 are recorded in the first two months of this year.

"Nonetheless, the crossings continue and lives are being lost. And this calls for all stakeholders governments, international and regional organizations, the donor community and civil society to develop comprehensive responses to reduce and ultimately prevent these hazardous journeys," Edwards stressed.

Over the past five years, more than half-a-million people (mainly Somalis, Ethiopians and Eritreans) have crossed the dangerous waters of the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea to reach Yemen. Reports abound of mistreatment, abuse, rape and torture by unscrupulous smuggling and trafficking rings. Boats crossing to Yemen are overcrowded, and smugglers have reportedly thrown passengers overboard to prevent capsizing or avoid detection. Search-and-rescue officials say the practice has resulted in hundreds of undocumented casualties in recent years.

UNHCR has urged countries in the region to implement measures to help identify refugees and other people with protection needs among those taking to the sea. UNHCR has also called on donor countries and civil society organizations to become more engaged in mixed-migration issues in the Horn of Africa, so as to improve humanitarian responses and help save lives.

The refugee agency has worked to enhance services offered to new arrivals in close collaboration with the Mixed Migration Task Force and other partners, including the government of Yemen, international and national non-governmental organizations and host communities at arrival points.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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