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Gulf of Aden Shipwreck Survivors Mull Options Amid Reports of New Tragedy

By International Office of Migration (IOM)
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GENEVA, Switzerland, November 11, 2014/African Press Organization (APO)/ -- Amid reports today from Obock, Djibouti, that at least 30 more people have died attempting to cross the Gulf of Aden, IOM has dispatched a team to investigate and aid survivors, if any.

Following the biggest loss of life since March in a deadly shipwreck in the Gulf of Aden on 20 October, when 26 migrants drowned, IOM Djibouti has been sheltering eight survivors and providing them with necessary psychological and medical assistance.

Five of them have now decided to voluntarily return to Ethiopia, their country of origin, while the remaining three have decided to continue their hazardous journey to Yemen and Saudi Arabia, despite the risks and IOM recommendations not to do so.

The October tragedy occurred when an overloaded boat carrying 34 people left Djibouti for Yemen in high winds. When it capsized, the migrants drowned less than two km from the beach of Guehery, 39 km north of Obock. All of the migrants came from Ethiopia's Kamisseh region, which is desperately poor and suffers from high unemployment.

The shipwreck involved the biggest loss of life in the Gulf of Aden since March 2014, when seven migrants drowned trying to reach Yemen and 35 survived. Since the beginning of the year, at least 241 people have perished at sea trying to reach Yemen from Djibouti.

Explaining the survivors' decisions to either return home or again risk their lives at sea, IOM Djibouti acting Chief of Mission Romaric N'Guessan said that tens of thousands of migrants continue to make the journey out of desperation and ignorance of what awaits them. “An increasing number of them are also victims of human trafficking and other human rights abuses at the hands of smugglers,” he added.

“We warned this group of the dangers and offered to provide them with transport home and even a reintegration grant to start a small business. Some accepted, but the others decided to keep trying to reach the Gulf, despite seeing what happened to their compatriots,” he said.

To raise migrants' awareness of the risks of irregular migration and human trafficking, three years ago IOM Djibouti opened a Migrant Response Center in Obock, the closest Djibouti town to Yemen.

“Despite advocacy and outreach efforts in Ethiopia, Somalia and Djibouti, migrants – mainly Ethiopians – often continue to be unaware of the extreme dangers they face, until they have crossed the border into Djibouti and are faced with life-threatening difficulties. Smugglers are increasingly taking advantage of this,” said N'Guessan.

“At least 50 migrants were abandoned in the desert in September and died of exhaustion and dehydration. Another 15 migrants were found dead in the lake Assal area in August. These are desperate people and we are faced with a huge challenge,” he noted.

Story of a migrant survivor:

''I was in a group of more than one hundred people. We left Dire Dawa (Ethiopia) for Djibouti. The trip from Ethiopia to Djibouti border was done by vehicle. I stayed one week in Djibouti then I moved to Tadjourah then to Obock. Most of the trip from Djibouti to Tadjourah and to Obock was done on foot.

I left my country because I heard that there were many jobs and a lot of money in Saudi Arabia. On departure, I paid some money to the traffickers in Ethiopia and the rest of the money was used to pay for the boat from Obock to Yemen and to Saudi Arabia. In total I spent 7,500 birr (USD 380).

Now I have lost all my money, but I'm still alive. I knew that I could have died in the desert or at sea, and because I didn't have documents, could have been arrested by the police in Yemen or Saudi Arabia. But I did not have any hope in my village, so I decided to continue my trip anyway.

But then I saw what happened with the boat. I saw my friends dying as most of them did not know how to swim. I can still hear their cries. I was lucky because it could have been me and now I want IOM to help me to go back to my country.

I have learned that irregular migration is too dangerous. I have a nice country – Ethiopia. I have to go back and work hard to have a better life. I don't want to risk my life again. IOM also told me also that there are regular migration channels and I will try to look into that if I decide to migrate again.''