On 2nd January 2011 a small boat carrying thirty-seven migrants departed from Obock port town in Djibouti and capsized near Bab Al-Mandab on the Yemeni coast. Only three Ethiopians and two Somalis survived. Omar and Mohamed, the two surviving Somalis, are brothers.
Capsizing boats claim lives of hopeful Somalis and Ethiopians
After making the difficult decision to pursue a new and safer life in Yemen, they left behind their home village in South-Central Somalia. Travelling to Djibouti, they were registered at Ali Adee Refugee Camp. Worried that life conditions in the camp would be too harsh, they left for Obock.
Omar and Mohamed recounted to the Danish Refugee Council registration staff their tragic experience. “We were among only six Somalis who departed, all the others, around 30 people, were non- Somalis‟,” they explained. Thirty minutes after leaving Obock late at night, the boat‟s engine suddenly failed. Heavy waves struck the boat repeatedly, rapidly filling the small vessel with water. The brothers explained that as panic began to increase amongst the passengers and the situation became frantic. Eventually the wooden boat capsized and the passengers had to grip the edges to remain above water. But under the continuous impact of waves, people lost their grip, and drowned. “It was a very difficult moment for us as they were clutched by death,” one of the brothers recounted.
In February 57 Somali refugees drowned when their boat capsized en-route to Yemen. There was just one survivor. Ahmed, a 42 year old man from Mogadishu, left Bossaso in Puntland on a small boat two days before, together with his wife and children and other migrants. Stormy weather made the crossing impossible with strong waves forcing the
boat to overturn. Ahmed recounted that almost immediately people drowned, but for a few young men who could swim, however, he did not know if they survived. He recalled the most painful moment, with tears running down his face. “I saw my wife and children. My wife kept calling me desperately as her only hope for rescue. I tried my best to save my children and her, but the strong wind and heavy waves were too much. I could not turn around to reach them. After a while I managed to turn around but…waves were high and I could not see anybody”.
Ahmed had swum for 23 hours before reaching the Yemeni coast near the port town of Bir Ali, some 400 kilometres east of Aden.
Including the latest and tragic deaths, 87 people have drowned or gone missing in the waters between Somalia, Djibouti and Yemen this year.
* Named changed for protection reasons.
* The story and figures are related to the first quarter of 2011 (January – March)
By DRC Yemen
Photo by Cassandra Mathie