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UNHCR: Scores of People Drown in Gulf of Aden


The UN refugee agency reports about 40 people have drowned while making the dangerous journey across the Gulf of Aden. It says these people were among 115 passengers trying to reach Yemen from Somalia on smugglers boats. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from UNHCR headquarters in Geneva.

The UN refugee agency says the smugglers forced dozens of passengers overboard in deep water off the coast of Yemen. It says 12 bodies so far have washed up on the beach in Alam and 28 remain missing.

It says the remaining 75 boat people survived and have arrived in UNHCR's Ahwar reception center where they are receiving help. Survivors say most of the 115 passengers were Somalis and Ethiopians, including some women and children.

UN refugee spokesman, Ron Redmond, says the voyage from Somalia to Yemen usually takes about 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 of the passengers, who had already paid $100 each prior to departure," Redmond said. "The survivors said those who did not or could not pay were severely beaten by the smugglers and up to 40 people, mostly Ethiopians, were thrown overboard despite their pleas for mercy."

The UNHCR reports more than 38,000 people made the dangerous crossing by boat from Somalia to Yemen during the first 10 months in 2008. It notes this is nearly 10,000 more people who made the same journey during the whole of last year.

It says more than 600 people have been reported dead or missing so far this year in the Gulf of Aden. Last year, the death toll reached 1,400.

Redmond says many efforts are being made to discourage people from taking desperate measures to escape their impoverished, war torn countries.

Despite this, he says the number of refugees and migrants crossing the Mediterranean and the Gulf of Aden by sea in the first 10 months of 2008 is already higher than the total for the whole of last year.

"For example, nearly 30,000 boat people arrived on Italian shores by the end of October compared to 19,000, 900 during the whole of 2007," he said. "At the same time, the number of people reported dead or missing at sea on their way to Italy or Malta in the first 10 months of 2008, and that is 509 deaths, is already higher than the total for 2007, which was 471 deaths. And, this is despite the laudable search and rescue efforts of the Italian Navy and Coast Guard."

Redmond says similar trends can be seen in refugees and migrants trying to reach Malta, Greece, Spain and the Canary Islands. He says in most cases, a large number of those arriving by sea apply for asylum and a substantial number are recognized to be in need of international protection.

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