At least 29 die after smugglers force migrants overboard off Yemen

Other News Materials 10 September 2008 23:28 (UTC +04:00)

At least 29 African migrants drowned after smugglers forced passengers of a crowded boat overboard at gunpoint in deep waters, the Doctors Without Borders organisation said on Wednesday.

The international agency said its teams in the southern Yemeni province of Abyan found 29 bodies after the accident on Tuesday on the beach at Wadi al-Barak, about 30 kilometres east of Ahwar town.

Ten more people died during the trip, the humanitarian group said in a statement.

It said the boat arrived midnight Tuesday and stopped far from the coast in deep waters. About 120 people were in the boat at the beginning of the journey that started in Bossaso in north-eastern Somalia.

"The passengers were forced, with extreme violence, to jump into the water. Most of the people who died did not know how to swim," the statement said.

Citing testimonies of survivors the statement said up to 10 people died during the two-day journey with several people asphyxiated and three, including two children, thrown into the sea by the smugglers.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHRC) said on Tuesday that more than 1,700 African refuge-seekers arrived on Yemen's coast on 59 boats in August as a new season of people-smuggling gathers steam across the Gulf of Aden.

It said the figure was three times higher than the number of arrivals in August 2007, when 633 people landed in 10 boats.

The new wave of smuggling resumed earlier this year, as trafficking regularly resumes in September after summer storms subside, the UN agency said.

Twelve people on one boat died at the end of August, eight of them after jumping into the sea when a gunbattle erupted between the Yemeni military and smugglers near the coast, the statement said. Four others died during the voyage across the Gulf of Aden, which survivors said had been incredibly difficult due to high winds and rough seas.

So far this year, more than 400 people are believed to have drowned attempting the crossing aboard smugglers' boats to Yemen as 24,269 people, mainly Somalis, made the perilous voyage, according to the UNHCR.

Hundreds of people perish every year in the perilous exodus that takes thousands of desperate people, mostly from strife-torn Somalia, to Yemen in small boats run by smugglers operating from Somali ports.

Last year, more than 113,000 people, mostly Somalis, arrived on Yemeni coasts, and more than 1,400 deaths were registered.

Since the outbreak of civil war in Somalia, Yemen has become a magnet for refugees fleeing violence and drought. The country is seen as a gateway to Europe and the oil-rich countries of the Arabian peninsula, dpa reported.