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More Die at the Hands of Smugglers in the Gulf of Aden

The waters of the Gulf of Aden may be calmer this time of year. But they’re still extremely dangerous for Somalis and Ethiopians trying to make their way across to Yemen.

After two months of rough seas, conditions have improved in the gulf – and those wishing to cross are once again hiring to smugglers to do so. However, the UN refugee agency says in the past 10 days alone, over 50 people have died violently at the hands of smugglers.

Astrid Van Genderen Stort is a spokesperson for the UNHCR. From Geneva, she spoke to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua.

“The sailing season has resumed at the beginning of this month. I say sailing season, but it’s really the smuggling season in the Gulf of Aden. And unfortunately we’ve seen already a lot of deaths…at least 56 people have died in a brutal manner. Some people were stabbed. Some people were beaten. Some people died while being held, basically pushed together in the hold of the boat. Some people were forced overboard. Some people died trying to make it to shore swimming,” she says.

Since September 3rd, the UNHCR estimates the arrival of 12 boats in Yemen carrying 925 Somalis, Ethiopians and others. Another boat that left Bosaso in Somalia’s Puntland region drifted for six days some 100 kilometers offshore before returning. The agency says many had serious health problems. One of the survivors said smugglers forced him to drink acid.

“The smugglers are ruthless, as ruthless as they were last year. Unfortunately nothing has changed there. All they care about of course is getting the money for the trip and if you’re lucky you’ll actually make it to the other side. They pay an average of $70 to $150 and might not even make it to the other side,” she says.

But why hire smugglers knowing how dangerous and dishonest they are? Van Genderen Stort says, “These are people who are leaving because they are desperate, desperate because they are living in very, very difficult circumstances in their countries or places of origin. Desperate because of the war, the violence that’s going on. A lot of people are coming from Somalia. There’s also a lot of them coming from Ethiopia and we see that the situation there is getting much more difficult as well, especially in the Ogaden zone in Ethiopia. People just don’t have a choice. They have to leave…they cannot survive where they are”

She says the people have nothing to go back to. “They might as well risk their lives. If they lose it, well, that was the risk. But if they don’t, then there might be slight opportunities that their life might get better.

The UNHCR and other agencies are running awareness campaigns to warn people of the dangers. So far this year, 10,000 people reportedly arrived in Yemen in 103 boats. More than 280 people have died and about 160 are listed as missing.