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AFP
Last updated: December 8, 2014

70 Ethiopian migrants drown in shipwreck off Yemen coast

Banner Icon 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 UN refugee agency said Monday 21 bodies have been recovered after Yemen reported dozens of Ethiopian migrants drowning when their boat sank near the entrance to the Red Sea.

The interior ministry in Sanaa said in a statement posted on its website Sunday that 70 migrants had died when their vessel capsized in bad weather off the port of Al-Makha, near Bab el-Mandab strait.

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

It named the boat's owner as known people smuggler Ahmed Salem al-Hilali, and said security forces were hunting for him.

The ministry did not say when the accident took place, but the UN refugee agency's representative in Sanaa, Jamal Al-Najjar, told AFP it happened more than two days earlier.

"So far, we have recorded the bodies of 21 Ethiopian migrants who died in a shipwreck overnight Friday Saturday off Al-Makha," he said.

"The search continues for more possible victims."

Thousands of people fleeing troubled Horn of Africa states try to reach Yemen every year in the hope of using the impoverished Arabian Peninsula state as a stepping stone to oil-rich Saudi Arabia and the Gulf.

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 UNHCR said the number of migrants and asylum seekers from the region losing their lives while trying to reach Yemen in 2014 was the highest in years, exceeding the combined total for 2011, 2012 and 2013.

On May 31, 60 migrants from Ethiopia and Somalia along with two Yemeni crew members drowned off the coast of Yemen, the agency said.

On October 2, 64 migrants and three crew died when their vessel sank in the Gulf of Aden after leaving Somalia, UNHCR spokesman William Spindler told reporters in Geneva.

It was the deadliest sinking since June, when 62 people died. Forty-four people perished in March in another incident, while another in April claimed 12 lives.

"From the beginning of the year to the end of October, 205 African migrants have died off Yemen," the UN agency's Najjar said in Sanaa.

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.

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