The deadly smuggling season is underway with Somalis and Ethiopians boarding boats whose crews often force them overboard far from Yemen's shores
Four boats lacking food or water arrived in the past week carrying several hundred people, but at least four would-be migrants are believed to have drowned in the shark-infested seas, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said.
"The Gulf of Aden smuggling season has resumed -- this is an annual deadly business," UNHCR chief spokesman Ron Redmond told a briefing in Geneva.
Last year about 100 people a day arrived in Yemen during the September to April sailing season, according to the UNHCR.
A large numbers of potential passengers were now in Somalia awaiting their departure. "Many will die before they reach shore -- certainly hundreds have died in each of the three previous years," Redmond said.
Most Somalis and Ethiopians cite insecurity, drought and economic hardship as reasons for risking their lives to reach Yemen, UNHCR says. Many report they intended to leave Yemen to seek jobs in the richer Arab states of the Gulf.
The smugglers work out of Bossaso, the chief port of the semi-autonomous area of Puntland in northeastern Somalia, "one of the world's busiest smuggling hubs", the agency says.
Local authorities in Bossaso have been unable to control the traffic. "It is part of their economy. Smuggling is a big business there," Redmond added.
Gulf of Aden smuggling resumes