A further 27 people are still missing in the Gulf of Aden, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said. An official of the international organisation in Sanaa, the Yemeni capital, told AFP that 55 others had been rescued.


“The 100 refugees were forced by the crew under threat (at gunpoint) to throw themselves into the sea from the boat before arrival at the port of Mukalla” on the Yemeni coast, said the official who declined to be named.


Yemen has become a magnet for refugees seeking to flee war-ravaged Somalia or the ever-present threat of famine in Ethiopia.


Yemen is also the Arab country which harbours the greatest number of non-Palestinian refugees - about 70,000 according to the UNHCR and double that according to the Yemeni government.


Perilous journeys


Still, a number perish in their bid for a better life.


Some, though many of whom do not know how, are forced to swim to shore, while others are trafficked in boats that are not seaworthy and sink in bad weather.


In February, a Somali boat carrying some 130 people sank near the Yemeni coast. There were only 84 confirmed survivors.


The Romans knew this fertile and wealthy country as Arabia Felix (Happy Arabia), in contrast to the relatively barren desert to the north.