Awhar, Yemen – Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) mobile teams have found 35 dead refugees during the night April 22, 2009, in the coastal location of Radah, in the Abyan governorate. There were approximately 120 survivors. The refugees were of Somali and Ethiopian origin and were coming from the port of Bosasso, Somalia, fleeing from insecurity or extreme poverty. They were travelling on smugglers boats in extremely harsh conditions during a two-day trip across the Gulf of Aden.
The survivors described their landing incident to the MSF team as follow: “After travelling for two days, we reached the coast of Yemen in the evening of April 22. There, while approaching the shore, the refugees for a reason not yet clear started moving and the boat capsized.”
Many refugees were travelling in the hull of the boat, originally a fishing boat now used for human smuggling. Even the hulls of the boat, designed to carry fish, now carry humans. If the boat capsizes, the hull is a death trap.
When the MSF team arrived on the spot, they found the capsized boat and after efforts with locals they managed to free three women from the hull. Unfortunately the rest of the trapped refugees were dead from drowning. There were also refugees drowned when they were forced to try to swim to shore.
The death toll in this landing is 35 people so far. Other refugees may be missing.
The refugees reported to MSF team that during their travel, armed Somali pirates intending to rob them and throw them in the sea stopped them in the middle of the ocean. They managed to escape after their smugglers negotiated with the pirates.
On April 10, during the landing of another boat carrying 76 persons, the smugglers forced the refugees to jump in deep waters near the coast of Yemen, in Melha, 30 km from Ahwar town, which resulted in the death of many refugees. In the following days, 16 bodies were washed ashore and recovered. An unconfirmed number of refugees are still missing. During this landing, MSF assisted 48 survivors.
Such stories are common in the MSF project in Ahwar. People are fleeing from war or extreme poverty, having no choice but risk the dangerous journey. They have to travel for two days in an eight to ten meter boat with 100 to 120 more people. During the journey they are usually not given any food or water, nor allowed to move. People put in the hulls of the boats sometimes suffocate to death. The death toll of the journey is high. Since September, 2008, at least 338 people have been found dead along the coasts of Abyan, without counting the bead bodies washed to shore and buried unannounced by fishermen or fellow refugees.
MSF has been working in Ahwar since September, 2007. Since then, MSF has provided emergency medical and psychosocial care as well as water and food and non-food-items to more than 17,600 refugees.
In June 2008, MSF released a report, titled “No Choice” which documents the conditions of the perilous journey to Yemen and calls for increased assistance for the thousands of refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants fleeing their home countries.