April 24th, 2007 06:50 EST
Almost 20 die at hands of smugglers in failed effort to reach Yemen
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) today said that at least 18 people died – either by being thrown overboard on the high seas by smugglers or by asphyxiation and dehydration – as they attempted to make the perilous journey across the Gulf of Aden from Somalia to Yemen.
Accounts from eyewitnesses and survivors told UNHCR of this latest incident, which occurred on 20 April, the agency’s spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis said in a press briefing in Geneva.
The deaths occurred during a voyage of two boats, a smuggling boat and a transport vessel used to transport fish and cattle, carrying 150 people – 80 Ethiopians and 70 Somalis. One boat arrived at the Yemeni port of Buroom, while the other reached Mukalka city, 25 kilometres away.
Survivors reported paying the smugglers $100 to cross the Gulf of Aden to Yemen, where authorities have taken 35 Ethiopians into custody.
The Somalis, who the Yemeni Government has recognized as refugees, were given food and water before being transferred to UNHCR’s reception centre in Mayfa.
In 2006, approximately 26,000 people crossed the Gulf of Aden to Yemen, and 330 died. Another 300 were reported missing as they attempted the perilous journey and are presumed dead.
Since the start of this year, over 5,600 people have reached Yemen while at least 200 have died and many are still missing.