The Somali consulate in Yemen’s southern province of Aden has said it is worried about the increasing number of smugglers’ boats being used to ferry African migrants, mostly Somalis, from the Horn of Africa to Yemen. It also expressed concern about the deaths of Somalis and the squalid conditions in which survivors live.
The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) on 28 September said that in September alone 50 such boats had reached Yemen from Somalia carrying 4,741 people, mostly Somalis and Ethiopians - a 70 percent increase on the same period last year when 30 boats arrived with 2,961 people.
Eighty-nine African migrants had died in September and 154 had gone missing and were presumed dead, it added.
On 26 September five boats carrying 600 Somalis and Ethiopians arrived in Yemen; one person had died and 22 had gone missing, UNHCR said. Of the latter, four Ethiopians had died on board one of the boats due to asphyxiation, while 18 others had been thrown overboard, passengers told the UNHCR.
The smugglers had also beaten passengers with iron bars, belts and plastic tubes and some had been stabbed, the UNHCR added.
The UNHCR also expressed concern about Yemeni coastguards firing at the smugglers’ boats, which had caused deaths among passengers.
So far in 2007, 43,897 African migrants have arrived in Yemen. At least 356 others have died and 272 are missing presumed dead, according to the UNHCR.
Somalia’s consul-general in Aden, Hussein Haji Ahmed, told IRIN the smuggling of African migrants resumed in earnest in September after a lull of a few months due to rough seas.
Ahmed said survivors had gone to various parts of Yemen in search of a better life. “Most stay without shelter in Aden’s al-Basatin district, where there are over 15,000 Somali refugees.”
He said aid groups, as well as the UNHCR, had provided the new arrivals with basic food and medicines.
“But they’re in desperate need of shelter. I met many of them in al-Basatin and found their [living] conditions very bad. Some had been stabbed by the smugglers, others needed psychological treatment after being mistreated while on their way to Yemen.”
Ahmed explained that while the living conditions of Somalis in Yemen were generally not dissimilar to those in Somalia, Somalis lacked peace in their own country.
“But peace alone is not enough for a person seeking a better life. That is why some Somalis risk their lives by agreeing to be smuggled to Gulf countries where they face as many problems as they had at sea,” he said.
In a bid to build up Yemen’s capacity to deal with the illegal migrants the UNHCR said it would train coastguards and immigration officials on refugee issues, humanitarian law and rescuing people at sea.
The UNHCR is planning to set up a second reception and registration centre in Ahwar on the Yemeni coast. The centre will include a health facility to be run by Médecins sans Frontières.