UN agency urges international action after latest migrant tragedy in Gulf of Aden

People waiting to board a boat to take them across the Gulf of Aden. Photo: UNHCR/Alixandra Fazzina

11 March 2014 – With 44 people missing and feared drowned after a smugglers' boat capsized off the coast of southern Yemen, the UN refugee agency today urged the donor community and civil society to develop comprehensive responses to reduce and ultimately prevent these hazardous journeys.

Spokesman Adrian Edwards said the Office for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is “deeply saddened” by the boat accident in the Gulf of Aden over the weekend 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," Mr. Edwards told reporters in Geneva, describing this as the worst such incident this year.

According to UNHCR, the boat had departed from Bossasso in the north coast of Somalia on Friday 7 March. “It ran into strong winds and high waves off the coast of the southern Yemeni governorate of Shabwa,” said Mr. Edwards, adding that according to one of the survivors, the boat quickly filled with water and capsized.

On Sunday morning, a marine patrol by UNHCR partner organization Society for Humanitarian Solidarity (SHS) found 33 survivors. With one exception, all the survivors were 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 had lost his two children in the tragedy, unable to reach them in the dark,” said Mr. Edwards. “The sole surviving woman lost her teenage daughter. She said the smugglers had refused to stop the boat when it began taking on water,” he added.

The tragedy is the most significant involving refugees and migrants crossing the sea to Yemen in the past year. Though the number of people making the perilous journey has been declining –from 107,532 arrivals in 2012 to 65,319 in 2013 – the crossings continue, resulting in hundreds of undocumented casualties in recent years.

“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,” Mr. Edwards stressed.

Over the past five years, more than half-a-million people – mainly Somalis, Ethiopians and Eritreans – have crossed the waters of the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea to reach Yemen in overcrowded boats. In addition to countless reports of mistreatment, abuse, rape and torture by unscrupulous trafficking rings, smugglers are also often reported to throw passengers overboard in order to prevent capsizing or avoid detection.

UNHCR has worked to enhance services offered to new arrivals in collaboration with the Mixed Migration Task Force and other partners, including the Government of Yemen, international and national non-governmental organizations and host communities.


News Tracker: past stories on this issue

Over 30,000 refugees and migrants have arrived in Yemen so far this year – UN agency

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Yemen: Risking refuge (June 2007). Credit: UNHCR


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