AP – Somali refugees abandoned by smugglers in the dangerous waters of the Gulf of Aden drifted for 18 days, and at least 52 died before the group was rescued off the Yemeni coast, the U.N. said Sunday. Seventy-one people survived the journey.
The boat broke down within hours of leaving Somalia on Sept. 3, bound for Yemen and carrying 124 Somalis, the U.N. refugee agency said. The crew abandoned the boat for another craft and never returned for the refugees, who threw bodies overboard as fellow passengers died, the UNHCR statement said.
Eventually, the boat drifted close enough to southern Yemen that three passengers tried to swim ashore. Two managed to alert rescuers; the third never made it.
The Yemeni coast guard rescued 71 refugees on Sept. 21, the UNHCR statement said.
Hundreds of Africans die every year trying to reach Yemen, with many either drowning or being killed by pirates and smugglers in the dangerous waters separating Somalia and the Arabian peninsula. Those who survive the journey register with the U.N. refugee agency and stay in refugee camps in Yemen, while others take jobs in the cities as laborers for less than a $1 a day.
The agency said at least 31,192 people have arrived in Yemen on smugglers’ boats so far this year—including 21,201 Somalis and 9,854 Ethiopians fleeing poverty and violence in their homelands. More than 228 people have died and at least 262 remain missing, the UNHCR said.
According to the agency, people smuggling subsides in the summer months because of bad weather in the Gulf of Aden, but picks up again in late August and September.