Page last updated at 07:54 GMT, Thursday, 11 September 2008 08:54 UK

Migrant bodies washed up in Yemen

Refugees on a boat near Bossasso heading towards Yemen (Archive photo)
Hundreds of boats leave Bossasso each year heading for Yemen

Thirty-five bodies have been found washed up on the beaches of Yemen, Medecins Sans Frontieres says.

The medical charity says the people died attempting to cross the sea from Somalia in an effort to escape the country's extreme poverty and warfare.

Survivors said the boats' crew stopped off the Yemeni coast and forced them at gunpoint to swim to shore. Another 29 people are missing, feared drowned.

On Tuesday, the UN warned that the number of Somalis fleeing was rising.

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said that 59 boats brought more than 1,700 people to Yemen last month - almost triple the number for the same period last year.

So far this year, the agency says more than 24,000 people have made the perilous journey across the Gulf of Aden.

'Children overboard'

According to a 23-year-old Somali refugee from the capital, Mogadishu, who survived the journey, 120 people were on the boat that left Somalia from the port of Bossasso.

Map of Somalia and Yemen

"We did not receive food, nor water; some of us were placed in the hull; several people died because of asphyxia; some others were thrown overboard, among them two children," the survivor told MSF.

"In order to intimidate us, they beat us heavily with their belts. One of the smugglers threw petrol on us and showed off his lighter."

The UNHCR says that despite the burden on the Yemeni authorities, they are still maintaining an open door policy towards refugees, but global action is needed to tackle the problem.

Somalia has experienced almost constant civil conflict since the collapse of Mohamed Siad Barre's regime in January 1991.

Islamist militants are currently fighting government and Ethiopian troops, with frequent bombings and shelling in the capital, Mogadishu.

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