Teams from Doctors Without Borders (MSF) treated 164 refugees from Ethiopia and Somalia who arrived on a beach in southern Yemen on December 1, after they made a harrowing two-day journey in smuggler boats launched from northern Somalia.
At least 24 people did not survive the trip. Most of the bodies were collected from the beach yesterday, with several more discovered today, in Ahwar, Yemen.
A total of 195 refugees and migrants made the journey in two overcrowded boats that disembarked from the port city of Bossasso in the Puntland region of northern Somalia. People were forced overboard by the smugglers approximately 400 meters from the Yemeni shore. Some survivors were treated by MSF for knife wounds. The smugglers stabbed them when they refused to jump from the boat while still in deep water far from shore.
Sixty percent of the survivors of this latest journey came from Ethiopia, with the remainder from Somalia.
Boatloads of people routinely arrive on Yemen’s southern shores. The majority of the passengers are usually Somali people fleeing war and persecution at home. Some Ethiopians also report that they are fleeing persecution and violence in some areas of their country. Since the beginning of the year, 350 people have died attempting the journey; the figure is probably too low since some bodies are lost at sea and others a buried quickly and unannounced by local villagers.
A one-and-a-half year-old boy reached the shore with his twenty-year-old aunt. They had set off from Bossaso with the boy’s 24-year-old mother after journeying from the Oromo region of Ethiopia to northern Somalia in search of a better life in Yemen.
The boy’s aunt searched the beach in vain for her sister, who apparently did not survive after being forced from the boat. Seven hours later, Yemeni fisherman found the boy’s mother in the water, miraculously alive.
“The boat was very crowded,” said the boy’s mother. “We had no water or food. Only the smugglers did. If you move, they kick you. If someone dies on the boat, they throw them overboard. I witnessed someone being thrown into the sea.”
Twenty-four hours after her ordeal she was confused, exhausted, and could barely walk. “Yesterday I was in the sea,” she whispered. “I don’t know how I was saved. Only today can I talk. I don’t know where I am right now, but I would like to go to Yemen.”
Since the beginning of 2008, MSF teams in southern Yemen have treated over 8,000 people who have arrived by boat. Survivors are provided with immediate medical assistance on the beach and are given dry clothes, water, and nutrient-fortified foods. They are then transported to a United Nations reception center in the town of Ahwar, where MSF operates a medical clinic and provides counseling services. MSF began its project in southern Yemen in September 2007.
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.