Relief SCENE:Security
Somali Refugees Drown During Smuggling Trip
57 Presumed Dead While Crossing Gulf of Aden to Yemen
02/24/2011
Refugees on beach in Yemen in 2006
al Jazeera Television
Refugees on beach in Yemen in 2006

Fifty-four Somali refugees, including six children and the three smugglers, drowned this Sunday while trying to cross the Gulf of Aden into Yemen. The sole 42 year old male survivor swam for most of the day to reach the Yemeni shoreline near Bir Ali. Late on Friday night they had boarded a small two-engine boat and left from a location just outside Bosasso. The trip would have taken three days, but on Sunday they encountered heavy seas.

Strong waves capsized their overcrowded boat leaving only 9 survivors including the three smugglers who clung to plastic containers. The group had fled the fighting in Mogadishu. Normally the trip takes 48 hours, but smugglers had begun taking longer routes to avoid increased security patrols.

The refugees hoped to reach Saudi Arabia where they would likely work in low paying jobs. Refugees typically pay up to 100 dollars per crossing and hope that smugglers on the other side will help them avoid arrest in Yemen.

Somali and Ethiopian refugees trickle into Bosasso until they can earn enough to pay the smugglers for the crossing. Then they risk their lives at night, endure the burning sun and brave shark filled water in small fishing boats to escape to Yemen. Once in Yemen they are often treated like criminals extorted, and abused.

The UN estimates that over 25,000 people take this treacherous trip every year, the single largest human smuggling route in Africa.