UNHCR Yemen urges action to end loss of life at sea after deadliest year in recent memory

National Yemen

The internally displaced people who UNHCR registered after they fled fighting are heading back to their homes in southern Yemen. © UNHCR/R.Nuri

UNHCR in Yemen is today urging all actors concerned to take the action needed to ensure 2015 does not continue the tragic and deadly record set by 2014 for migrants, refugees and asylum seekers coming to Yemen via the sea.

According to UNHCR’s monitoring of incidents and reports, a total of 246 individuals died in and around Yemeni waters throughout 2014. “Tragically we ended 2014 with more people dying in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden than ever before, making it the deadliest year in recent memory. If we want this unfortunate epithet to stay with 2014 and not carry into this new year we need to make 2015 the year we take strong action” said Johannes van der Klaauw, UNHCR Representative in Yemen.

Equally worrying is the steep rise in the number of arrivals by sea during the second half of 2014. Some 60,000 people arrived in the second half of 2014, equalling two thirds of the total for 2014.

The Government of Yemen, UNHCR and the International Organisation for Migration have recently increased their cooperation on the challenges relating to protection at sea, notably in strengthening capacity of rescue at sea and better coordination of all involved to ensure safe arrival and initial reception on Yemeni shores. These issues were discussed at a national workshop in Sana’a on the subject in November 2014 and clear recommendations on the way forward were identified for action by the Government of Yemen, governments in the region, international organisations, and the donor community.
In order to prevent further loss of life at sea, the Government of Yemen has recognised the need to further build the capacities of the Yemeni coast guard to carry out rescue at sea. This will have to include training and awareness raising on the international standards for protection at sea; providing the necessary equipment, technical assistance and support for operational costs; and strengthening coordination based on established roles and the possibilities for swift and safe disembarkation including for commercial vessels.

UNHCR is urging all concerned to develop strategies to address the root causes of the continuing irregular migratory movements out of countries of origin in the Horn of Africa. This should include raising awareness of the dangers among the public, building opportunities for regular migration, including labor mobility, as well as cracking down on the rampant smuggling and trafficking networks who put people in danger during their crossing to Yemen.

“No Government can tackle this problem alone; we need a comprehensive strategy covering all countries of origin, transit countries and destinations,” said van der Klaauw.

“While saving lives is the paramount concern, we also need to address the reasons why people leave their counties and stem the criminalization of migration by traffickers and smugglers. Traffickers in particular make movement by sea  a dangerous venture which increases the protection and humanitarian concerns that we must all address together.”


Total deaths at sea24654013115


Throughout 2014, 91,592 people reached Yemen’s shore from the Horn of Africa.  The increasingly cruel measures being adopted by smuggling and trafficking rings seem to account for the increase in deaths at sea. Boats crossing to Yemen are often perilously overcrowded, and smugglers and traffickers have reportedly thrown passengers overboard to prevent capsizing or avoid detection.

The decrease in arrivals witnessed in 2013 was not sustained in 2014 which grew, in the second half of the year, to levels last seen in 2011 and 2012 when, in each year, over 100,000 people reached Yemen. Indeed, September 2014 saw 12,768 migrants, refugees and asylum seekers come to Yemen,  the highest monthly total since records were established in 2002. Factors behind this surge are believed to include ongoing drought in South-Central Somalia, as well as the combined effects of conflict, insecurity, and lack of livelihood opportunities in countries of origin. Moreover, the surge can also be attributed to a decreasing level of cooperation between the countries in the region to better manage migratory movements.

Month of arrival
2014 total91592

When migrants and asylum-seekers arrive, often exhausted and dehydrated on Yemen’s coast, UNHCR and its partners provide first aid and food at three coastal transit centres. Transport is then provided to the nearest reception centre for people to be registered and have their protection needs identified, referred and addressed.