News / Africa

Increasing Number of Somali Refugees Arriving in Yemen

Kim Lewis

The U.N. refugee agency [UNHCR] says an increasing number of Somali refugees are now going to Yemen - fleeing drought, famine and conflict.

It says the numbers correspond to a decrease in the number arriving in Kenya and Ethiopia.

The UNHCR says more than 3,700 refugees have reached the coast of Yemen so far in August, and more are expected in the coming months.

The route is a historically migratory one that is heavily travelled from the Horn of Africa across the Gulf of Aden to Yemen and other countries.

“What we are witnessing in [recent] weeks is that the numbers continue to be significant within the context of the overall displacement of Somalis,” said Andy Needham, the UNHCR public information officer for Somalia.

He said those who do make it across the Gulf are received by aid agencies already working in an unstable environment in Yemen.

“Our colleagues in Yemen as well as other countries in the region…have to deal with this influx of people coming on a regular basis as a result of the current famine displacements, explained Needham.

While Somalis endure banditry and a lack of food and water in walking from their home country in search of relief at refugee camps in Kenya and Ethiopia, the journey to Yemen is far more dangerous because they must cross the Gulf to get there.

“It’s extremely dangerous. It is often fatal, sadly. People are loaded onto vastly overcrowded boats that are perhaps barely seaworthy. They make these absolutely treacherous and perilous journeys across the Gulf and many never make it to the other side, dying along the way.”

Needham added, “They are cramped into every possible nook and cranny, even in the engine room. Sadly, we have come across many cases where people have simply suffocated from fume poisoning, as well as people drowning along the way.”

Often those who offer to take people across the water are unscrupulous, said Needham. Many are smugglers and human traffickers who, for fear of being arrested, dump the passengers overboard.

“The vast majority are coming from Somalia and Ethiopia and cannot swim, so they drown.”    He said many mass graves are created along the beaches where the bodies have washed up.

The refugees trying to cross the Gulf of Aden are a mix of people, mostly young men and teenagers with their smaller siblings in tow, searching for a new and better life.

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