Somali migrants’ death toll rises

The number of mostly Somali migrants who drowned on 12 February off the Yemeni coast has increased to 107, Somali community officials in the capital, Sana’a, said on Sunday.

“The number of migrants who drowned increased from 30 to 107 [as more bodies were found]. Most of them are Somalis and about 20 percent of them are from Ethiopia,” Sadat Mohammed, Head of Refugee Affairs at the Somali Community in Sana’a, told IRIN. He also said more people were still missing at sea.

Mohammed said that Yemeni coastguards were responsible for the recent increased number of deaths of migrants making the perilous journey across the Gulf of Aden.

“This problem [deaths of migrants] occurred after the Yemeni coastguards began firing at smugglers’ boats. This information was circulated among smugglers, who then began taking new sea routes,” he said.

The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) recently confirmed that smugglers were taking new and more hazardous sea routes to Yemen as a result of increased security patrols along the Yemeni coast.

When nearing the Yemeni coast, smugglers often force people to jump off and swim to shore so the smugglers can escape being arrested or shot at by Yemeni coastguards, Somali community leaders said.

According to Mohammed, in January this year, about 1,700 Somali migrants arrived in Yemen, mainly at Aden, Hadramout and Bir Ali.

“During this month [February], the number of Somalis coming to Yemen could increase to 3,000,” Mohammed said, warning that the situation for them is worsening. “As migrants are left alone by smugglers on shores, some die of thirst and hunger as there is no one to assist or receive them,” he said.

Illicit shipping of people

The illicit shipping of people across the Gulf of Aden has soared in recent weeks. On 12 February, UNHCR said at least 30 migrants drowned on the same day when the boat smuggling them from Somalia capsized off the Yemeni coast.

“In less than a month, we have seen a dramatic increase in people smuggling from Somalia, with over 1,600 arrivals in Yemen aboard some 20 boats,” UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond told a press briefing in Geneva last week.

Redmond said the smugglers have changed tactics and are now arriving at different points along the Yemeni coast, making it harder for Yemeni coastal patrols to catch them and for UNHCR and its partners to register them and provide aid. Despite the increase in the fare for the boat journey, from US $40 to $100 per passenger, hundreds of desperate people continue to take the risk.

''As migrants are left alone by smugglers on shores, some die of thirst and hunger as there is no one to assist or receive them.''

In recent months, UNHCR has reported cases of migrants being savagely beaten to death and thrown overboard by club-wielding smugglers just for requesting drinking water.

According to the agency, the Somalis said they fled their homes during and after hostilities between government forces and Islamist groups. Many said armed militias shot at them and took their money and belongings at checkpoints in Somalia.

In 2006, UNHCR reported that some 27,000 people survived the perilous voyage, while 330 died and another 300 are still missing.

Somalis reaching Yemen get automatic refugee status because many are fleeing a violent conflict, though not all apply for it. There are currently more than 88,000 registered refugees in Yemen, of whom 84,000 are Somalis.

maj/ar/ed

see also
Focus on Somali refugees
Afrah Ahmed "I don't know where the suffering ends"
Ismael Mahmud Abdille "I live in a situation worse than before"
Suleiman Hassan, Yemen “Now that my parents are both dead I am alone in this world”