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Wed 3 Dec 2008 08:39 AM

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At least 20 drown off Yemen coast

Smugglers force around 115 passengers overboard off Yemen coast in Gulf of Aden, UN agency reports.

At least 20 people drowned off the coast of Yemen on Monday and two others were reported missing after smugglers forced around 115 passengers overboard in the Gulf of Aden, the UN refugee agency said.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said on Tuesday the passengers were forced overboard in deep water near a village outside of the town of Ahwar, around 220 kilometres east of the port city of Aden.

"The boat was reportedly carrying around 115 passengers, mostly Ethiopians," UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond said in a statement.

The UNHCR said 20 bodies were recovered and two people were still missing. The remaining 93 passengers made it to shore.

A second boat smuggling 55 into Yemen arrived at around the same time, but there were no casualties reported, the agency said.

The Gulf of Aden is a popular route for smuggling people from the Horn of Africa into the Middle East.

According to the UNHCR, migrants pay on average between $130 and $150 to travel on small, fast boats, while those making the journey on crowded, bigger vessels spend between $50 and $70. The voyage can take from 12 to 36 hours.

More than 43,500 people have arrived in Yemen in 850 smuggling boats so far this year after making the journey across the Gulf of Aden from Somalia, according to the UNHCR.

The agency said at least 380 people had died and some 360 were missing so far this year. In 2007, some 29,500 people made the voyage to Yemen and the overall number of dead and missing reached 1,400.

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