London GuardianDecember 2, 2008At least 20 refugees have drowned after smugglers forced 115 people overboard while crossing the Gulf of Aden, the UN's refugee agency said today.
The incident takes the number of people killed making the hazardous crossing to Yemen to at least 380 this year, with another 360 feared dead, according to the office of the UN high commissioner for refugees (UNHCR).
"At least 20 people drowned off the coast of Yemen yesterday and two were reported missing after smugglers carrying them across the Gulf of Aden from the Horn of Africa forced them to jump overboard in deep water," said Ron Redmond, a spokesman for UNHCR.
The survivors, many of whom are Ethiopians, were "sick and exhausted from the trauma of the voyage", AFP reported.
Redmond said the remaining 93 passengers made it to shore in Yemen and were transferred to a reception centre.
The Gulf of Aden is a busy shipping lane, vital for transporting oil and gas and notorious for piracy. It is also used for human trafficking, as smugglers transport people from Somalia to Yemen.
Thousands of Somalis, many fleeing violence in their homeland, and others from Eritrea, Ethiopia and as far away as Sri Lanka, arrive in Yemen - which has an open door policy for refugees - every year. On average an estimated 100 people a day arrive after making the 36-hour journey between September and March.
Last month, UNCHR said up to 40 people on a boat smuggling people across the Gulf of Aden from Somalia were forced overboard in deep water off the Yemeni coast.
UNHCR and other international agencies have called for global action to address the problem and have opened an additional reception centre for survivors.