Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Ethiopian and Somali migrants drown on smuggling route to Yemen

Reuters:

Fifteen Ethiopian and Somali migrants including a pregnant woman drowned after traffickers made 260 passengers disembark from two boats far from Yemen's shore, the United Nations refugee agency said on Tuesday.

The smugglers, believed to be Somali, feared leaving deep waters as the Yemeni coast guard has increased patrols near the shore, it said.

Eight Ethiopians and 7 Somalis, including a pregnant woman, drowned in the latest incident last Thursday, which brought the death toll from the dangerous journey across the Gulf of Aden to at least 340 people in the past year, with more than 300 missing, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said.

Survivors reported that more than 9,000 Somalis and Ethiopians were waiting in the Somali port city of Bosaso to cross the Gulf of Aden for Yemen, UNHCR spokeswoman Jennifer Pagonis told a news briefing.

Some Somalis said they left their homes before or during fighting in the volatile Horn of Africa nation between the Ethiopian army and an Islamist movement, but had been forced to stay in Bosaso due to rough sea conditions.

Islamist forces ran most of south Somalia for six months until they were ousted by a government-Ethiopian offensive over the New Year.

Yemen usually grants Somalis refugee status, but Ethiopians have been sent back in the past, according to UNHCR. The agency seeks access to all new arrivals to register and interview them to assess whether they are fleeing violence or persecution.

More than 26,000 migrants have been recorded as arriving in Yemen from Somalia sice January 2006. The country is currently host to more than 88,000 registered refugees, mainly Somalis.

Yemen: people-smuggling from Somalia, and deaths, pick up steam, UN reports

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