The U.N. Refugee Agency, UNHCR, says the death this week of 20 Africans smuggled on a boat heading for Yemen underscores the urgent need for international action to stem the flow of desperate people who fall prey to ruthless traffickers. The UNHCR says among those reported dead were four Ethiopians and 16 Somalis.
The U.N. Refugee Agency says six dead bodies were found when a boat carrying 65 people reached Yemen earlier this week.
UNHCR Spokesman, William Spindler, says another 14 people reportedly died during the voyage. Among them, he says, were six people who threw themselves into the sea because they could not bear the thirst. He says the bodies of eight other people who died on board of thirst and hunger were thrown overboard.
"The boat left port near Bossaso in the Puntland region of Somalia with little food or water, allegedly to maximize space for its human cargo," he said. "After its engine failed, the boat drifted in the Gulf of Aden for six days, with passengers growing hungrier and more desperate by the hour. UNHCR staff in Yemen arranged medical assistance for survivors-some of whom had bite marks from crazed fellow passengers."
Spindler notes this horrific voyage is not unusual. He says smugglers frequently beat their passengers or force them overboard while still far away from shore. He says crews from commercial liners have, in the past, rescued people found drifting helplessly in the shark-infested waters.
Besides the traffickers and the sharks, he says the thousands of desperate Africans who try to reach Yemen every year also are in danger of encountering pirates.
"The issue of piracy on the coast of Somalia is something that worries the shipping companies," he added. "It is part of the general lawlessness that exists in Somalia. This problem of people leaving Somalia and also Ethiopia to try to reach Yemen, some of them to look for better conditions, but many of them also escaping lawlessness and persecution at home is part of this general degradation of the security situation there."
In September, the UNHCR called for international action to stem the flow of desperate people across the Gulf of Aden. This followed a particularly bad three-week period in which 150 people died. UNHCR Spokesman Spindler says the agency is forced to renew this appeal because no action has been taken.
In the meantime, he says the UNHCR is working with authorities in Puntland, in north-eastern Somalia, on a campaign to inform people about the dangers of using smugglers to go to Yemen. He says videos and radio programs will be used to raise awareness among Somalis and Ethiopians.