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UN: More Than 100 Drowned in Smuggling Incident Off Yemen Coast


The U.N. refugee agency has raised to 107 the number of people who died trying to reach Yemen earlier this week. Their bodies have been found along a remote stretch of the Yemen coastline. Several people are still missing. The UNHCR says the deaths occurred in an incident involving two smugglers' boats that were crossing the Gulf of Aden from Somalia toward Yemen Monday. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from UNHCR headquarters in Geneva.

The U.N. refugee agency describes the smugglers as a ruthless lot. When the first boat capsized, it says smugglers on the second one rescued the smugglers from the first boat, forcing 120 passengers into the sea. They then headed back out into the Gulf of Aden, leaving 240 people in the high seas.

Survivors say the people were in the water for several hours before the Yemen military came to their rescue.

UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond says the military was unable to save more than 100 of the passengers. He says people smuggling in the area is now very common.

"Over the last month, UNHCR has recorded the arrival of 1,000, 776 Somalis and Ethiopians on 20 boats," he said. "With the latest casualties, at least 136 have died over the last month making the hazardous journey and many are still missing."

"The Somalis said they fled their homes during and following the end of recent hostilities between government forces and the Islamic Courts Union. Many said they were exposed to gunfire by militias in Somalia and had their money and belongings stolen at checkpoints manned by the same militia," he added.

Last year, Yemen reports some 27,000 people made the perilous voyage, with 330 deaths and another 300 still missing.

Redmond says Somalis who survive and make it ashore are automatically recognized as refugees and are allowed to stay in Yemen.

He said, "They can either go to the reception center and camp that UNHCR has constructed there or some of them are living on the local economy. Others are eligible for individual status determination."

"Many of the Somalis as well as the other nationalities who take this voyage, however, never come to UNHCR and they move on elsewhere in Yemen or further afield in the Middle East," he continued.

Every year, the UNHCR says thousands of people cross the Gulf of Aden, the Mediterranean and other waters, fleeing persecution in their own countries or searching for a better life.