African refugees 'forced off' boats near Yemen coast

Evrard Martin
Août 11, 2017

On Wednesday, traffickers pushed over 120 Somali and Ethiopian migrants into the Arabian Sea off Yemen's southern Shabwa governorate, according to the IOM.

The war in Yemen has left over 8,300 people dead and displaced millions since March 2015, but the country continues to draw migrants from the Horn of Africa seeking work in the prosperous Gulf countries further north.

After migrants were forced into the seas on Thursday, the IOM counted five bodies.

"The survivors told our colleagues on the beach that the smuggler pushed them into the seawhen he saw some "authority types" near the coast", said Laurent de Boeck, the Yemen Chief of Mission of the International Organization for Migration (IOM). The majority of the migrants appeared to be teenagers and young adults.

On Wednesday, IOM said a smuggler "deliberately drowned" dozens of migrants after which IOM staff found the shallow graves of 29 people on a beach in Shabwa during a routine patrol.

They had been buried by survivors. The smuggler began pushing them to avoid getting arrested.

UN Secretary-General Antonio has said he was "heartbroken" after smugglers pushed mostly African migrants off boats heading for Yemen twice in two days.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) had earlier estimated the death toll higher, at 55. The suffering of migrants on this migration route is enormous. Smugglers are active in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, offering fake promises to vulnerable migrants. "Too many young people pay smugglers with the false hope of a better future", Boeck added.

Long the Arab world's most impoverished country, Yemen has all but collapsed in what the United Nations has called the "largest humanitarian crisis in the world".

The narrow waters between the Horn of Africa and Yemen have been a popular migration route despite Yemen's ongoing conflict.

Years of fighting between the Saudi-backed government and Shiite Huthi rebels allied with Iran have been compounded by a cholera outbreak that has killed nearly 2,000 people and the looming threat of starvation. Windy season in the Indian Ocean makes the trip especially risky.

The coalition has denied that its forces were operating in the area when the vessel carrying Somali refugees came under attack.

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