At least 40 Somali refuge-seekers die off Yemeni coast

February 22nd, 2008 - 12:08 am ICT by admin  

Sanaa (Yemen), Feb 21 (DPA) At least 40 Somali refuge-seekers have drowned after smugglers forced them at gunpoint into the sea to avoid detection by coast guards as their two overcrowded boats approached Yemeni shores, coast guard officials said Thursday. The officials said the bodies of 40 passengers, including those of 17 women, were washed ashore Wednesday on Hawra village in the province of Shabwa province, around 580 km southeast of Yemeni capital Sanaa.

As many as 176 people had made it to the shore and were taken to a nearby refugee shelter, while locals buried the bodies of the victims in makeshift graves.

The exact number of passengers aboard the two boats was not known, said the officials. The incident occurred late Tuesday.

Survivors told rescuers that smugglers, fearing detection by Yemeni coast guards, at gunpoint forced passengers to jump off the two boats into the sea as they neared the end of their three-day trip across the Gulf of Aden from Somalia to Yemen.

This was the latest in a series of similar tragic boat incidents in which hundreds of people are killed every year.

Since the beginning of 2008, at least 200 African illegal migrants have died or gone missing in boat accidents off Yemen.

Hundreds of Somali and Ethiopian migrants perish every year making the dangerous crossing of the Gulf of Aden to Yemen on small boats run by smugglers operating from Somali ports.

Last year, more than 113,000 people, mostly Somalis, made the perilous voyage to Yemen, with over 1,400 deaths.

Since the outbreak of civil war in Somalia, Yemen has become a magnet for refugees fleeing violence and drought and a gateway to the oil-rich countries of the Arabian Peninsula and Europe.

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