'African refugees were thrown to the sharks'
October 20 2006 at 01:47PM
Geneva - At least 126 East Africans died or went missing while they were fleeing across shark-infested waters to Yemen in recent weeks, sometimes after being thrown overboard by smugglers, the United Nations refugee agency said on Friday.
"Passengers on one boat reported that five Ethiopians were beaten by the smugglers, thrown overboard and attacked by sharks in view of the others on the vessel," said Ron Redmond, a spokesman for the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
Since the beginning of the seasonal exodus in early September, during calm sea conditions on the Gulf of Aden, UNHCR staff have counted 5 700 Ethiopians, Sudanese and Somalis arriving by 56 boats in Yemen.
The large majority were from Somalia.
Sixty-four people were killed and 62 were missing, based on eyewitness accounts from fellow refugees and reports from Yemeni authorities, the agency said.
The Ethiopian refugees who were thrown to the sharks were part of a group that included 853 who arrived in Yemen on eight boats on October 13 and 14.
"Upon arrival on the Yemen coast, the smugglers forced 25 Ethiopians to remain onboard one of the boats because it had developed engine trouble and their weight was required to maintain balance for the return voyage to Somalia," Redmond said.
"They have not been seen since," he added. - Sapa-AFP
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