- Again, human traffickers shipping Somali and Ethiopian emigrants over the Gulf of Aden cynically forced 40 refugees overboard at high sees, to their certain death, for not agreeing to pay extra. Almost 150 African have died attempting to reach Yemen only in the past two months.
Spokesman Ron Redmond of the UN refugee agency UNHCR at a press briefing in Geneva today was upset about yet another mass killing of Somalis and Ethiopians seeking refuge in Yemen. "Tragedy struck again in the Gulf of Aden on Sunday morning, when up to 40 people on a smuggling boat carrying 115 desperate people across the Gulf of Aden from Somalia were forced overboard in deep water off the coast of Yemen," Mr Redmond reported.
Twelve bodies have so far washed up on the Yemeni beach in Alam and 28 remain missing, he added. The remaining 75 boat people survived and hade arrived in UNHCR's Ahwar reception centre where "they are receiving help."
Survivors had told the UN agency that the boat departed from northern Somalia on Friday with 115 passengers, mainly Somalis and Ethiopians and including some women and children. The voyage from Somalia to Yemen usually takes some 36 hours.
"On Sunday, as the boat was within sight of the Yemeni coast but still in deep water, the smugglers demanded more money from all passengers, who had already paid US$ 100 each prior to departure," Mr Redmond said. Survivors had told UNCHR officers that "those who did not or could not pay extra were severely beaten by the smugglers and up to 40 people – mostly Ethiopians – were thrown overboard despite their pleas for mercy."
In addition, one person died yesterday at a clinic in Ahwar as a result of severe injuries inflicted by the smugglers. Others are being treated for head wounds and other injuries. The Ahwar clinic is run by the international humanitarian organisation Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).
MSF - which in addition to the UN refugee agency is vital in providing Africans arriving Yemen shelter, food and medical care - reports from Ahwar that, only since 31 October, 60 dead bodies have been found on the shore of this Yemeni coastline.
The last tragic incident at the Yemeni coast happened only just before the weekend. One of the survivors, who was onboard the small boat arriving from Bosasso in Puntland (Somalia) described the incident to the MSF team: "While approaching the shore at 8:00 PM, the smugglers noticed some lights on the land. Being afraid to be spotted by the coast guard, they forced us into the sea, even if the water was too deep. Several people did not know how to swim and they drowned."
In another incident a few hours later, the MSF team discovered a group of Somalis and Ethiopians that had been on the shore for several hours trying to recover after they boat capsized. They said they had to immediately bury 23 of their dead co-passengers. When the MSF team arrived there were still survivors in the capsized boat.
Such stories are common on the southern coast of Yemen. More than 32,000 people have attempted the trip only since the beginning of 2008, according to UNHCR. Before the latest incident, where 40 refugees were killed, MSF had recovered 114 dead bodies only since the beginning of September.
So far, no human trafficker shipping Ethiopians and Somalis to Yemen in the harshest conditions has ever been brought to justice in Somalia.
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