15 April 2007

Somalia: 130 Migrants Die After Coast Guards Open Fire

Sanaa — Somali community leaders in Sana'a said on Saturday that 130 African migrants died at sea when their boat capsized off the Yemeni coast after coast guards opened fire on them.

Three boats carrying 460 African migrants, Somalis and Ethiopians, left the Somali port of Bossaso on 9 April and arrived in Yemeni regional waters late on 12 April.

"As the smuggling boats entered the Yemeni waters, coast guards began firing on them, causing one boat to capsize," Sadat Mohammed, head of refugee affairs in the Somali community in Sana'a, told IRIN.

"The boat was carrying African migrants, most of whom were women from Ethiopia. The shooting forced the terrified passengers to move and they couldn't maintain their balance. Their boat capsized as a result," Mohammed added.

The Somali leader said the other two boats fled and escaped being fired on.

"One of these boats headed for Hosn Bel-Eid, in Abyan province. Smugglers forced the passengers off [before reaching] the coast. Thirty-five died, and some others were missing," he said.

As the smuggling boats entered the Yemeni waters, coast guards began firing on them, causing one boat to capsize.

The third boat took another route towards the southern province of Hadhramout, Mohammed said. About 35 passengers survived, but the rest are missing.

Mohammed expected the strong sea waves to bring the dead bodies ashore. "Some have been buried, but there are still dead bodies scattered out there. We call on local authorities to help bury them," he said.

This is the second incident of its kind this month. A week ago, the United Nations Refugees Agency (UNHCR) said three boats arrived at the Yemeni coast with 365 people, of whom 34 drowned in deep waters after being forced overboard by smugglers.

"Witnesses and survivors said two of the boats had begun dropping their passengers offshore when they reportedly came under fire from Yemeni authorities and moved back out to sea," UNHCR said in a statement.

Additionally, on 22 March, 35 migrants died and 113 others went missing after making the perilous sea voyage from Somalia to Yemen.

The Somali community in Sana'a expressed concern over the deaths among new arrivals fleeing the civil war in their country.

"Incidents of deaths among new arrivals are always repeated, especially as war continues and people flee homes. Not only do migrants die in Yemeni waters, but sometimes boats capsize in deep sea far away from Yemen," Mohammed said, adding that the journey by boat to Yemen costs US $100, twice what it cost a few months ago.

Early this month, UNHCR said nearly 100,000 Somalis are believed to have fled the Somali capital, Mogadishu, since the beginning of February.

In 2006, about 26,000 people made the Somalia-Yemen trip and at least 330 died, according to UNHCR. Another 300 who were reported missing are now thought to be dead.

A signatory to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol,

Yemen is home to more than 100,000 refugees, mostly Somalis.

[ This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations ]

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