Once again, there’s tragic news about Somalis and Ethiopians being smuggled across the Gulf of Aden. The UN refugee agency says at least 107 people died this week when a smuggler’s boat capsized on the way from Somalia to Yemen.
Astrid Van Genderen Stort is a spokesperson for the UNHCR. From Geneva, she spoke to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about the latest incident.
“This is an incident that happened already earlier this week. We’ve been talking about it before but it turned out to be much worse than we thought…there were four boats that approached Yemen. One boat capsized half a kilometer off the coast, 120 people aboard were in the water. Then a second boat forced its passengers, also another 120, overboard and came to the rescue of the smugglers from the first boat and went back to Somalia. So, we then had 240 people in the water…many of whom didn’t make it to the beach. Survivors tell us they spent hours in the water until anyone came to their rescue,” she says.
Yemeni authorities finally came to the rescue. The bodies of those who died washed up along the Yemeni coast.
Smugglers are taking new routes to avoid detection. However, as a result, if their boats capsize or if passengers are thrown overboard, it may take hours before the UNHCR and Yemeni authorities know what happened.
The current smuggling season is expected to last until April. After that waters in the Gulf of Aden may be too rough for several months for the smugglers’ boats. Last year, the UNHCR recorded about 27,000 people making the trip, with 330 deaths and 300 missing. So far this year, more than 1700 have crossed the gulf, with more than 150 deaths.