Eritrea releases over 100 Yemeni fishermen, almost 300 still in captivity

Diving Paradise Eritrea - Small Fishes in different colours
Diving Paradise Eritrea – Small Fishes in different colours

Eritrean News: Horn of Africa nation demands release of three Eritrean fishermen

SANA’A, Jan. 27—Eritrean authorities are still holding close to 300 Yemeni fishermen, who have been in custody for over a year, according to Yemen’s Fishermen’s Union. On Thursday, Eritrea released 135 men who were in custody for allegedly fishing in Eritrean waters. According to those released, Eritrean authorities have said they will not release the remaining 285 prisoners until Yemen returns three Eritrean fishermen they say are being held.

However, Yemeni authorities are denying that there are Eritrean fishermen in custody. In a phone interview with the Yemen Times, Abdulla Basunbl, the deputy minister at the Fisheries Ministry, said Eritrean authorities have never officially contacted the ministry regarding the issue.

The operations manager for the Yemeni Coast Guard, Shuja Mahdi, also denied Yemen’s detention of Eritrean fishermen.

The Yemen Times contacted the Eritrean Embassy in Sana’a, but the embassy declined to comment on the story.

According to Salem Alyan, a member of the Fishermen’s Union, the men were not released as a result of diplomatic negotiations, but were told by Eritrean authorities that they were returned as a gesture of goodwill in line with the new year.

Eritrea has long been upset at Yemeni fishermen who are accused of straying into their waters and negatively affecting their fishing economy.

Arif Omar, who was picked up by Eritrean authorities in September 2012, is one of the men recently released.

He says he wasn’t aware he was in Eritrean waters and blames both the Yemeni and Eritrean governments for not creating transparent fishing agreements.

“The Yemeni and Eritrean governments should make clear border restrictions,” Omar said.

However, Mahdi said the fishermen are making excuses.

“These justifications are feeble. All fishermen know where Yemen’s regional waters are,” he said.

Omar’s year and over three months in Eritrean captivity was inhumane, he added.

“We were subject to hard labor such as loading the tankers. If we didn’t work, we would not be given food,” he said.

Another fisherman who was also arrested in September 2012, Abdulla Ayash Ayash, said he and fellow prisoners who were kept at two different camps, Marfa and Al-Qadam, were not provided shelter or anything to protect themselves from the elements like the cold and rain.

Unlike Omar, Ayash says Yemeni fishermen know they are entering foreign waters, but that they have no other choice as fish are becoming more and more scarce in Yemen’s waters.

Alyan is critical of what he calls government apathy in securing the release of the other detained men. He acknowledges that Yemen’s ambassador to Eritrea visited a detainee camp last year, but no governmental action was taken after that.

As of now, Alyan is unaware of any plans in motion to secure the release of the remaining men.

– Yemen Times

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