Yemen Horn of Africa : Calm sea lures African migrants

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According to UNHCR, more than 22,532 people have arrived in Yemen since the beginning of 2008. Most live in abject poverty
SANAA, 9 September 2008 (IRIN) – Hundreds of African migrants, mostly Somalis, have taken advantage of calm seas to make the perilous journey from Somalia to Yemen in the first week of September and more are expected, Hussein Hajji, the Somali consul in Aden, said.

Hajji told IRIN on 7 September that more than 2,000 Africans, mostly Somalis, landed on Yemeni shores after crossing the Gulf of Aden. “Between three and five boats arrive at Yemeni shores on a daily basis,” he said.

Almost all the new migrants had arrived safely due to the calm sea. However, one incident claimed the lives of 14 Somalis who drowned in deep waters offshore. “Their bodies were buried,” he said.

In one boat a girl died of lack of oxygen after being confined to a very small cabin. “These are fishing boats and are not designed to carry passengers. After three hours at sea it is difficult to breathe in the cabins. When passengers try to get out [of cabins], the smugglers stop them,” he said.

According to Hajji, 85 percent of the new arrivals intend to seek a better life in the oil-rich Gulf states.

New security plan

Yemeni authorities, meanwhile, have prepared a new security plan to stem the illegal migration of Africans into Yemen by preventing the boats from entering Yemeni territorial waters.

Ahmed Hayel, head of the Ministry of Interior’s Information Centre, said the plan would be implemented in cooperation with neighbouring countries as well as international marine forces operating in the Red and Arabian seas.

“The plan aims at decreasing the continuous African influx which overburdens Yemen. It will put an end to the arrival of smuggling boats in Yemen,” Hayel told IRIN.

Implementation will begin next month, he said.

Yemen has been receiving thousands of African migrants since 1991 as a result of civil wars and instability in the Horn of Africa. It is the only country in the Arabian Peninsula that has signed the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its related 1967 Protocol.

Somalis are given automatic refugee status by the government of Yemen, while non-Somalis (mostly Ethiopians and Eritreans) must apply to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) for refugee status.

“When the African migrants reach the Yemeni shores, we are committed to receive them. Non-Somalis are not allowed to stay and so they get deported [if they do not qualify for refugee status],” Hayel said.

The Yemeni official said the new plan would not contradict the government’s signing of the UN Convention. “Signing the convention does not mean we should receive large numbers of Africans. The government has to take all necessary measures to stop their influx. Yemen cannot stand the burden,” he said, adding that large numbers of African migrants were expected in the coming days.

According to UNHCR, more than 22,532 people have arrived in Yemen since the beginning of 2008. Some 165 died while trying to reach the shore, and another 220 are missing, presumed dead. UNHCR has registered over 100,000 Africans, mostly Somalis, in Yemen.

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