70 Ethiopians drown in shipwreck off Yemen, African migrant deaths now over 3,000 for 2014

In the past five years, more than 500,000 people - mostly Eritreans, Ethiopians and Somalis - have reached Yemen following treacherous journeys.

The Spanish coastguard intercepts a traditional fishing boat carrying African migrants off the island of Tenerife in the Canaries. More than 100,000 migrants have been rescued in the Mediterranean Sea this year. (Photo: Flickr/UNHCR/A. Rodriguez)

The Spanish coastguard intercepts a traditional fishing boat carrying African migrants off the island of Tenerife in the Canaries. More than 100,000 migrants have been rescued in the Mediterranean Sea this year. (Photo: Flickr/UNHCR/A. Rodriguez)

SEVENTY Ethiopian migrants have drowned after their boat sank near the entrance to the Red Sea off the coast of Yemen, the Yemeni Interior Ministry said.

The boat capsized in bad weather off the port city of Al-Makha, near the Strait of Bab el-Mandeb, the ministry said in a statement posted on its website Sunday. It did not clarify when the boat sank.

“All those who were on board died,” the statement said, adding that all were from Ethiopia.

Thousands of people fleeing troubled countries in the Horn of Africa try to reach Yemen every year in the hope of making their way on to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf.

On May 31, 60 migrants from Ethiopia and Somalia along with two Yemeni crew members drowned in the worst such tragedy off the coast of Yemen this year, according to the UNHCR.

In the past five years, more than 500,000 people—mostly Eritreans, Ethiopians and Somalis—have reached Yemen via the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea following treacherous journeys on vessels that are often overloaded.

The country is home to up to two million migrants, mostly illegals who entered from other countries of the Arabian Peninsula, according to unofficial estimates commonly cited by experts and humanitarian organisations.

In October, the UN’s refugee agency said the number of migrants and asylum seekers from the region losing their lives in an attempt to reach Yemen in 2014 was the highest in years, exceeding the combined total for 2011, 2012 and 2013.

Yemen is the only country in the Arabian Peninsula that is signatory to two international accords dating back to 1951 and 1967 governing the protection of refugees.

It currently hosts 246,000 refugees, of whom more than 230,000 are from Somalia and a smaller number from Ethiopia, Eritrea, Iraq and Syria, according to UNHCR figures.

African migrants also attempt to cross the Mediterranean Sea for a better life in Europe, often crammed in unseaworthy boats. This year, an estimated 3,000 people have drowned in the Mediterranean Sea on their way to Italy.

The biggest single incident was last year when over 350 African migrants died at sea, prompting the Italian government to launch a coastguard operation dubbed Mare Nostrum, which was charged with rescuing boats in similar peril.

With the Italian coastguard on patrol, it has meant that making the crossing has become slightly less risky. Cynically, human traffickers have responded by packing even more migrants off, knowing that they will be rescued in case things go awry. In the past year alone, there has been a four-fold increase in drownings, and Italian authorities have rescued about 100,000 migrants at sea.

But Italy has announced a plan to end operation Mare Nostrum, which has been condemned by human rights organisations as ‘barbaric’ and ‘inhuman’.

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