In the Gulf of Aden, smugglers are busy again ferrying Somali and Ethiopian refugees to Yemen – a dangerous journey that frequently ends in capsizing, murder or drowning. What’s more, the smugglers are now taking new routes to avoid Yemeni security, often leaving refugees far from UN reception centers. The journey can take up to three days.
Astrid Van Genderen Stort is a spokesperson for the UN refugee agency, UNHCR. From Geneva, she spoke to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua.
“There have indeed been a few weeks of quiet, if you can say that, in the Gulf of Aden. But over the weekend, we had another few reports of boats arriving. One boat arrived in the south of Yemen, a boat with 130 people. And unfortunately seven people drowned after being forced to disembark in the water. But also another boat has arrived at another spot near Aden, actually in the southeast of Yemen, with 136 Somalis and 96 Ethiopians. The boat arrived at an island in the Red Sea. The people were picked up by the security authorities and the people were taken to Aden. And then we were informed that these people had arrived,” she says.
However, Yemeni authorities treat Somalis and Ethiopians differently. Van Genderen Stort says, “The Somalis will be handed over to us or should have been handed over by now. And they can stay in Kharaz camp. But the Yemenis unfortunately have another approach towards the Ethiopians. They have now taken them to a prison in Yemen and they will send them back to Ethiopia. We’ve asked (for) access to these people because we want to make sure there are no refugees or people fearing persecution or in need of protection among them. But so far we haven’t had that yet.”
Over the past year, the UNHCR has recorded about 26,000 people arriving in Yemen from Somalia. However, it admits many people arrive who are not recorded and make their way to other countries, such as Saudi Arabia. At least 300 have died during the journey and 300 are reported missing.