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As people flee Somalia and Ethiopia, 56 dead are found on the shores of Yemen

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On Saturday December 15, a Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) team assisting the refugees and migrants who cross the Gulf of Aden discovered 56 bodies near Arqa, on the shore of Yemen. When the MSF team arrived in the morning, they first found a group of 49 survivors, 10 of them women, on the shore. Further ahead were dozens of bodies washed upon a stretch of coast of five kilometres. The team counted 56 bodies, over half of them women and five children, some very small.

The survivors told the team that their boat capsized and many passengers remained trapped. According to the survivors' testimonies, they travelled on one boat, leaving Bossaso, Somalia, most probably on December 12. The approximately eight-metre fibreglass boat was packed with 148 people on board - Somalis and Ethiopians. There was a large number of women (around 40) and children (at least five, the youngest eight months old).

During the voyage, the passengers had no food or water. There were at least 20 people - all Ethiopians - in the hull of the boat. At least four people died during the trip due to the very hard conditions. The survivors explained that the boat arrived around midnight and stopped far from the shore. Passengers were forced to jump into the water. If they refused, they were beaten heavily. In the panic, people moved to one side, and the boat capsized. On the shore, the MSF team encountered many grief-stricken people who were looking for their relatives.

A 25 year-old Somali man from Merca said he lost his wife, two children and two other close relatives. "I have no choice," said another Somali man from Mogadishu. "Even if I die at sea, I need to get to Yemen. Maybe I have a chance to survive, but if I go back to Mogadishu I will die." MSF staff provided medical assistance to the survivors. Many had stab wounds. The team applied 30 dressings and distributed food and other relief items. They also offered counselling to the survivors as many had lost more than one close relative or friends.

MSF started this project in September 2007, providing medical and humanitarian assistance to refugees and migrants arriving to the Yemeni coast of Abyan and Shabwa Governorates. Since the beginning of 2007, 27,960 persons have come to Yemen, crossing the Gulf of Aden in extremely dangerous conditions. At least 593 persons died in the attempts and 659 are reported missing.