Saturday, October 18, 2014

Yemen: More asylum-seekers died trying to reach Yemen in 2014, than 3 past years combined

Those who arrive in Yemen by sea are taken to reception centres, like this one at Bab-el-Mandeb, where they are registered. UNHCR photo

17 October 2014 – More migrants and asylum-seekers are dying in attempts to get to Yemen, mainly from the Horn of Africa, this year than in the last three years combined, the UN refugee agency reported today.

In the latest tragic incident on 2 October, 64 migrants and three crew members died when their vessel, sailing from Somalia, sunk in the Gulf of Aden, according to a press release from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

October’s shipwreck was the largest single loss of life this year, and follows accidents in June, when 62 people died; March, when 44 people lost their lives; and in April, with 12 people dead. The total number of dead in 2014 is currently 215, exceeding the combined total for 2011, 2012 and 2013 of 179.

These deaths come amidst a dramatic increase in the number of new arrivals to Yemen by boat in September. At 12,768, it marks the single biggest month for arrivals since current records began to be kept in 2002. Most of the migrants are Somalis, Ethiopians and Eritreans who face ghoulish conditions on their journey.

“There have been frequent reports of mistreatment, abuse, rape and torture and the increasingly cruel measures being adopted by smuggling rings seem to account for the increase in deaths at sea,” UNHCR spokesperson William Spindler told journalists at a Geneva briefing today.

Boats crossing to Yemen are often perilously overcrowded, and smugglers have reportedly thrown passengers overboard to prevent capsizing or avoid detection. Search-and-rescue officials say the practice has resulted in hundreds of undocumented casualties in recent years.

Asylum-seekers arriving across the Yemeni coast at the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden are often dehydrated and exhausted. Stationed at three coastal transit centres, UNHCR and its partners provide first aid and food to those identified in a dire situation, before transporting them to the nearest reception centre, where they go through the initial registration process conducted by the Danish Refugee Council on behalf of UNHCR.

Somali arrivals receive ‘prima facie’ – accepted until proven otherwise – refugee status from the Government of Yemen, while non-Somalis who express an interest in seeking asylum are given attestation letters to present at the UNHCR offices in Sana’a or Aden and begin the refugee status determination process.

Despite the commitment and the continuing work of the Yemeni Government and others, it is clear that those ongoing efforts alone could not hope to avoid such loss of life.

“The surge can also be attributed to a decreasing level of cooperation between the countries in the region to better manage migratory movements,” Spindler said.

Factors behind this migrant surge are believed to include ongoing drought in South-Central Somalia, as well as the combined effects of conflict, insecurity, and lack of livelihood opportunities in countries of origin.

Therefore, “We also call on countries of origin, transit and destination in the region to step up their cooperation in managing the flows of migration. At the same time they must pay due attention to the protection needs of refugees, asylum-seekers and other vulnerable groups such as women and minors,” said Spindler.

This kind of regional cooperation was a central idea behind a Regional Conference on Asylum and Migration organized by the Government of Yemen with support from UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration in November 2013 and it lay at the heart of the Sana’a Declaration adopted at the Conference.

Yemen is the only country in the Arabian Peninsula that is signatory to the 1951 refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol. It currently hosts 246,000 refugees, including over 230,000 Somalis and smaller numbers of Ethiopians, Eritreans, Iraqis and Syrians.

Yemen also hosted more than 334,000 internally displaced persons, either forced from their homes as a result of recent conflicts or living in longer-term displacement.