Africa’s Boat People, Victims of Abduction, Extortion, Sexual Assault and Kidnapping

Human Wrongs Watch

Geneva – Over 12,000 refugees and migrants arrived in Yemen by boat in October, the highest monthly total since the United Nations refugee agency began tracking the flow of between the Horn of Africa and Yemen nearly six years ago. Many of them are victims of abductions, extortions, kidnappings and sexual assaults.

Credit: UN

The 12,545 arrivals last month brings the total so far this year to 84,656, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). This exceeds the previous annual record of 77,000 in 2009.

With the autumn sailing season still in full swing, we expect the numbers for 2011 to grow further,” Melissa Fleming, UNHCR’s spokesperson in Geneva, said on Nov 18.

Of this year’s arrivals 23,079 are from Somalia, while nearly all the remaining 61,577 are Ethiopians. Many of them are victims of abductions, extortions, kidnappings, and sexual assaults.

Fleming noted that since 2009 Ethiopian migrants have constituted the largest group among those crossing the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. From 2006 to 2011 their number has increased six fold – from some 11,000 in 2006 to 61,000 between January and October this year. 

The Journey

The sailing patterns have also shifted significantly over the years, she said. Initially, most of the crossings occurred in the Gulf of Aden where the journey from Somalia to Yemen takes three to four days.

Since 2009 there has been increasing traffic on the Red Sea, where the voyage from the Horn to Yemen, with boats now arriving at all times of day, lasts only a few hours. “Today, three out of four boats reaching Yemen come ashore on the country’s Red Sea coast,” said Fleming.

Refugees from Somalia continue to cite conflict, insecurity, drought and the resulting famine as the main factors driving them to leave their country, according to UNHCR.

Most arrive in Yemen unaware of the situation there, where insecurity makes further movement difficult and risky,” Fleming pointed out. “Most Ethiopians say they left home because of a lack of economic and livelihood opportunities, but some have indicated they fled in fear of persecution or insecurity in their regions of origin.”

Abductions, Extortions, Sexual Assaults

As well as affecting refugees and migrants, the insecurity and fighting in many parts of Yemen also poses additional challenges and risks for UNHCR’s staff and its partners, who have been forced to reduce the number of convoys and take longer routes transporting refugees from the reception and transit centres along the Gulf coast to Kharaz refugee camp, some 130 kilometres west of Aden.

The agency is also concerned about an increasing trend of abductions, extortions, kidnappings and sexual assaults targeting refugees, and particularly Ethiopian migrants.

While Somalis are automatically recognized as refugees upon arrival to Yemen and are generally left alone by smugglers, many Ethiopians are taken by smugglers to other Gulf states or held for ransom before they can have any contact with the authorities or UNHCR,” said Fleming.

Yemen is host to more than 200,491 Somali refugees. There is also an estimated 445,679 Yemeni

civilians displaced throughout the country.

The Smuggling Boats

Five months ago, the UN refugee agency voiced shock and sadness after at least 10 people died while making the perilous journey from the Horn of Africa to Yemen aboard a smuggling boat.

The boat set sail early on Sunday from Bossaso, Puntland, in northern Somalia, according to reports by some of the original 115 passengers who made it to Yemen’s shore, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) stated in a news release.

Ten Ethiopians on board suffocated en route to Yemen as the smugglers crammed 25 people in the engine room with no ventilation. Survivors claim that their bodies were thrown into the sea some seven hours after departure.

The Inhuman Treatment

Fearing detection by the Yemeni navy, the smugglers forced the remaining passengers to disembark too far from the coast. Four more people perished after succumbing to the rough sea. As of this morning, one male body and one female body had been recovered.

We condemn the unscrupulous and inhuman treatment of refugees and others who are desperately seeking to flee the violence, human rights abuses and seriously debilitating life options in the Horn of Africa,” said Erika Feller, the Assistant High Commissioner for Protection.

The Gulf of Aden remains one of the deadliest routes for those fleeing the Horn of Africa. According to UNHCR, 108 people are known to have drowned or fallen victim to risky crossings there since the start of 2011, compared to only 15 during all of 2010.

The Alarm

The growing number of deaths in Gulf of Aden has sparked alarm from UN refugee agency.

UNHCR United Nations refugee agency voiced alarm at the growing number of deaths in the Gulf of Aden this year.

The agency had already reported on April 15 that 89 people are known to have drowned in January and February alone – compared to 15 during the whole of 2010.

We also note with the great concern the resurgence of violence and inhumane treatment by smugglers of the refugees, asylum-seekers, and migrants that they are transporting,” UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahecic told reporters in Geneva.

The deadly record for the first three months is a stark manifestation of this trend,” he added.

The agency expressed concern after survivors from the latest incidents said that their cries for help while at sea to a nearby foreign naval ship and cargo vessel went unheeded.

In April a boat carrying 45 Somali refugees sank some two kilometres off the Yemeni shores near the town of Murais, more than 300 kilometres east of Aden, after it reportedly ran into heavy winds and rough seas. Fifteen of those on board are known to have drowned and five are missing, while 25 people managed to swim to shore.

The vessel approached the Yemeni coast in the afternoon of 12 April but the smugglers, fearing interception by the Yemeni Coast Guard, refused to approach the shore, said Mahecic.

The passengers, who by then were dehydrated and hungry, began crying and shouting. Despite their appeals, the crew decided to stay out at sea til the morning. The tattered vessel ultimately sank in rough seas.”

The survivors say that during the voyage they saw a cargo vessel and foreign naval ship. Although the naval ship approached their boat, it ignored their cries for help, he reported.


2011 Human Wrongs Watch

One Trackback to “Africa’s Boat People, Victims of Abduction, Extortion, Sexual Assault and Kidnapping”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: