December 8, 2014
SANAA // The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) recovered 21 bodies off the coast of Yemen on Monday, after at least 70 Ethiopian migrants drowned when their boat sank near the entrance to the Red Sea.
“The search continues for more possible victims,” said the agency’s representative in Sanaa, Jamal Al Najjar.
Yemeni security authorities in Taiz province said the small vessel sank on Saturday due to high winds and rough seas off the country’s Al Makha port, near the Strait of Bab Al Mandeb.
“All those who were on board died,” Yemen’s interior ministry said in a statement, adding that all of the migrants were from Ethiopia.
It named the boat’s owner as known people smuggler Ahmed Salem Al Hilali, and said security forces were hunting for him.
The incident is likely the deadliest sinking off the coast of Yemen so far in 2014.
Thousands of people fleeing troubled countries in the Horn of Africa try to reach Yemen every year. The country is seen as a gateway to wealthier parts of the Middle East, such as Saudi Arabia and Oman, as well as the West.
In the past five years, more than 500,000 people — mostly Eritreans, Ethiopians and Somalis — have reached Yemen via the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea following treacherous journeys on vessels that are often unseaworthy and, or, overloaded. Many have drowned.
In October, the UNHCR said the number of migrants and asylum seekers from the region losing their lives in an attempt to reach Yemen in 2014 was the highest in years, exceeding the combined total for 2011, 2012 and 2013.
“From the beginning of the year to the end of October, 205 African migrants have died off Yemen,” the UNHCR’s Mr Najjar said.
On May 31, 60 migrants from Ethiopia and Somalia, along with two Yemeni crew members, drowned off the coast of Yemen, while another 62 people died in similar circumstances in June.
On October 2, 64 migrants and three crew died when their vessel sank in the Gulf of Aden after leaving Somalia.
Yemen is home to up to two million migrants, mostly illegal, who entered from other countries in the Arabian Peninsula, according to unofficial estimates commonly cited by experts and humanitarian organisations.
Yemen is the only country in the Arabian Peninsula that is signatory to two international accords dating back to 1951 and 1967 governing the protection of refugees.
It currently hosts 246,000 refugees, of whom more than 230,000 are from Somalia and a smaller number from Ethiopia, Eritrea, Iraq and Syria, according to UNHCR figures.
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