Every day on the southern coast of Yemen, illegal boats drop off men and women running from war and poverty in Africa. But they’ve come to one of the poorest places on earth.
We’re standing on a beach in southern Yemen, early one November morning. On the opposite side of the Gulf of Aden lies the Horn of Africa, one of the most troubled regions on earth, racked by civil war and poverty. Those who can pay for their way out, make their way to Yemen. Seventy dollars buys them a spot on the next boat out. Many are beaten on the way, sometimes women are raped, and all too often - passengers drown. Those who reach Yemen will have to start a new life from scratch.
The sea is calm this morning, it is high season for illegal boats crossing into Yemen. Last night, we heard a motor boat travelling parallel to the beach. There was no light, no noise on board except for the engine: probably a smuggler using the cover of night to carry his human cargo.
Before sunrise, we meet up with a Yemeni charity, tasked with finding and sheltering Somali immigrants. We drive up and down the coastline, looking for what the United Nations call “new arrivals”. In a cemetery along the way, we number 41 tombstones – that’s how many bodies have washed up on beaches in this area since May- and spot five empty graves. They won’t stay empty for long: high season means more people are bound to drown over the coming weeks.
Mid-morning, several dozen Africans -exhausted, famished and frightened- walk out of the bushes where they spent their first night in Yemen. They were probably on board that boat we heard last night. They’re all Somali, all running away from the ongoing civil war. “We almost died, says Dahaba, 40 years old. When they dumped us overboard, we were still very far from dry land. Some of the passengers knew how to swim, but others like me…we nearly drowned.”
There were fourty passengers on the boat. By chance, they all survived. But their journey isn’t over. Ethiopians migrants will have to hide: they’re not welcome in Yemen. Somalis are allowed to stay, but what life can they build here? Few of them will find a job. Many will end up begging on the streets. Some will try to walk 500 kilometres to neighbouring Saudi Arabia where job prospects are better. This edition of Reporters tells the story of their odyssey.