The UN refugee agency reports at least 56 people have died violently in the past few days while trying to make the perilous crossing from Somalia to Yemen. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from UNHCR headquarters in Geneva that the agency says these people met their death while crossing the Gulf of Aden in smugglers' boats.
The latest tragedies occurred some 10 days after the resumption of smuggling across the Gulf of Aden. The trafficking of humans across the strait stops between May and early September because the sea is too rough and stormy.
Since the smuggling season resumed on September 3, the UN refugee agency has recorded the arrival of 12 boats in Yemen carrying 925 Somalis, Ethiopians and others.
The agency says one smuggler's boat that failed to reach Yemen encountered problems about 100 kilometers west of Bosaso in Somalia's Puntland region.
UN refugee spokesman, Ron Redmond, says the agency received reports Thursday that at least 100 Somalis aboard the vessel made it back to shore in Somalia after being adrift for six days.
"Many of them had been beaten, and some were reportedly doused with acid by the smugglers," he said. "The bodies of those who did not survive the six-day ordeal were reportedly thrown overboard. We do not have the numbers of those who died in that incident. The most recent arrivals in Yemen told us that they were beaten by smugglers during the trip and that 24 people on their boat had died, three as a result of beatings; 11 who had been crammed into the hold of the boat; and 10 who drowned in deep waters offshore."
Redmond says some refugees reported that once they reached Yemen, they came under fire from military forces based in the Yemeni region of Jalbad. Redmond says one Ethiopian was wounded and transferred to a medical facility by the UNHCR.
He says most of the passengers are from volatile areas in Somalia and the increasingly unstable Ogaden zone of Ethiopia. He says they paid between $70 and $150 to make the dangerous crossing.
He says the UNHCR and other aid agencies have been running information campaigns aimed at warning people of the risks they face in using smugglers.
"We have had instances where people have decided not to go. But, the vast majority still think it is worth the risk, because they are coming from areas of persecution, conflict violence, ethnic strain and economic hardship," he added. "And, so convincing people like that who think they have nothing left to lose is very, very difficult."
The UNHCR reports so far this year, more than 10,000 people have arrived in Yemen in 103 boats. It says a total of 282 people died while 159 remain missing and presumed dead.