December 17, 2007

MSF teams find 56 deceased, treats nearly 50 survivors of dangerous sea crossing from Somalia

Barcelona, December 17, 2007 - A Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) team assisting refugees and migrants who cross the Gulf of Aden encountered 56 bodies near Arqa on the Yemeni shore on Saturday, December 15.

When the MSF team arrived in the morning, they first found a group of 49 survivors on the shore, 10 of them women. Further ahead were dozens of bodies washed up on a five-kilometer stretch of coast. The team counted 56 deceased people, over half of them women.  Also among them were five children, some very small. The survivors told the MSF team that the boat on which they were travelling capsized and that many passengers were trapped. Therefore, many more could have perished.

According to the survivors’ testimonies, they travelled on a boat from Bossaso, Somalia, most likely on December 12. The approximately 8-meter fibreglass boat was filled with 148 people, including Somalis and Ethiopians. There were a large number of women (approximately 40) and children (at least five, the youngest being eight months old). During the voyage the passengers had no food or water. There were at least 20 people—all Ethiopians—in the hull of the boat. At least four people died during the trip due to the harsh conditions.

The survivors explained that the boat arrived at around midnight and stopped far from the shore. Passengers were forced to jump into the water. As they refused, they were beaten heavily. In the ensuing panic, people moved to one side and the boat capsized.

On the shore the MSF team encountered many grief-stricken people searching for their relatives. A 25 year-old Somali man from Merca said he lost his wife, two children, and two other close relatives. “I have no choice,” said another Somali man from Mogadishu.  “Even if I die in the sea I need to get to Yemen. Maybe I have a chance to survive, but if I go back to Mogadishu I will die.”

MSF staff provided medical assistance to the survivors, many of whom had stab wounds on their bodies. The team applied 30 dressings and distributed food and other relief items. They also offered counselling to the survivors; many had lost more than one close relative or friends.

MSF began its project in Yemen in September 2007, providing medical and humanitarian assistance to refugees and migrants arriving at the Yemeni coast in Abyan and Shabwa governorates. Since the beginning of 2007, 27,960 persons have arrived in Yemen, crossing the Gulf of Aden in extremely dangerous conditions. At least 593 persons have died in their attempts to reach Yemen and 659 are reported missing.

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