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Somali refugees drown when boat capsizes in Gulf of Aden

© Alixandra Fazzina

UNHCR is disturbed by reports in late February that 50 Somali refugees drowned when their boat capsized while crossing the Gulf of Aden to Yemen. Fifty-four of the dead or missing were Somali refugees, including six children, while the remaining three were smugglers.

"We are horrified by this latest tragedy that adds to the terrible suffering of the Somali people," added High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres. "The Gulf of Aden remains one of the deadliest routes for those fleeing the fatal mix of conflict, violence and human rights abuses in the Horn of Africa."

There was just one survivor, a 42-year-old man, who swam for almost a day before reaching the Yemeni coast near the port of Bir Ali, some 400 kilometres east of Aden. He was eventually helped by UNHCR's local partner, the Society for Humanitarian Solidarity. The man had fled fighting in Mogadishu with his wife and three children and boarded the small two-engine boat near the port town of Bossaso in northern Somalia. He said that the boat capsized after being struck repeatedly by strong waves. Just nine men, including the three smugglers, were left alive at this stage, clinging to small plastic tanks. The survivor did not know what happened to these people.

This is the largest loss of life in the seas between Somalia and Yemen in a single incident since January 2008, when 114 people drowned after smugglers forced 135 people into the water from a boat, causing it to capsize. With the latest deaths, 89 people are known to have drowned or gone missing in the perilous waters been Somalia and Yemen this year. On average it takes three days for boats to cross the Gulf of Aden to Yemen, with most Somalis reaching Yemen by unauthorized sea passage regarded as refugees.