The Red Sea boat people

briefing note from the UN refugee agency highlights the extraordinary numbers of people who risk their lives crossing the sea from the Horn of Africa, hoping to find safety in Yemen:

September and October are the height of the sailing season and the number of arrivals by sea is staggering. More than 50,400 people arrived on 994 boats to Yemen from the Horn of Africa so far this year, already passing the total for [the whole of] 2008 when 50,091 people crossed …

According to our staff in Yemen, so far this year 266 people drowned and another 153 are missing and presumed dead. For all of last year, the death toll was 589 people drowned and 359 others who went missing and were presumed dead.

More than half the arrivals this year are Ethiopians (27,633) while the rest are almost exclusively Somalis (22,791) who automatically get refugee status in Yemen. Those who make the crossing are fleeing desperate situations of civil war, political instability, poverty, drought and famine in Somalia and the Horn of Africa.

Posted by Brian Whitaker, 4 October 2009.