The UN refugee agency says a lot more Somalis and Ethiopians have tried to cross the Gulf of Aden this year compared to last. However, hundreds have died in the attempt, often at the hands of smugglers.
Helene Caux is a spokesperson for the UNHCR. From Geneva, she spoke to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about attempts to cross the gulf and reach Yemen.
"It's much worse this year because we're only 10 months in(to) the year of 2008 and already we have over 38,000 people who have tried to make the dangerous crossing by boat from northern Somalia to the coast of Yemen. In comparison, last year…you had…29,500 people who made the same journey. In the first 10 months of this year, you have over 600 people who have been reported dead or missing.… Last year, the death total reached 1,400. So, in a way you have less people who are dead or missing, but it's still a huge problem in the Gulf of Aden. More and more people are trying to cross to Yemen," she says.
She says that there are a number of causes for the migration, among them the humanitarian crisis in Somalia. "There's also lack of development in Ethiopia and Somalia. So people are basically crossing for different reasons, also for protection reasons," she says.
Those attempting to cross in smugglers' boats are mainly Somalis and Ethiopians. "To give you an example of the latest incident we can report about, it took place on Sunday when a boat left northern Somalia to Yemen. There were 115 people on board and 40 people, mainly Ethiopians, were forced to go into the sea in the deep water. As of today, only 12 bodies have been recovered," she says.
The migrants are easy prey for the smugglers. Caux says, "Basically what usually happens is that when the boats are in view of the Yemeni coast smugglers start to blackmail the people, the passengers, and ask for more money. It happened many times in the past. So, it's something which, unfortunately, is quite common."If passengers refuse to pay more or the smugglers fear attack from Yemeni patrol boats, they are often thrown overboard.