At least 20 migrants died on Wednesday after smugglers threw them overboard during a voyage from Djibouti to Yemen, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM). It's the third such incident in the Gulf of Aden in six months.
A boat carrying 200 migrants left Oulebi in Djibouti at 2 am on Wednesday, according to IOM spokeswoman Yvonne Ndege.
Survivors told the IOM that, half an hour later, the smugglers judged the boat was overloaded and threw at least 80 passengers off the boat.
The 200 migrants – among them children under 18 years of age – were reportedly headed to Yemen, hoping to enter Saudi Arabia to find work.
As of Thursday (March 4), five bodies have been recovered, and survivors are being treated in Djibouti.
According to the IOM, it was not immediately clear what countries the migrants were from, but many make the voyage from Ethiopia and Somalia.
Drownings common on this route
The crossing from Eastern Africa to Yemen is commonly used by migrants who attempt to reach Gulf countries where they seek to find work. Though the crossing is dangerous and African migrants in Yemen are often subjected to arbitrary detention and abuse, the attempts to cross have not stopped, even amid the coronavirus pandemic.
In October, two incidents similar to Wednesday's tragedy reportedly claimed the lives of at least 50 migrants, according to IOM, including the drowning of at least eight migrants who were forced off a boat by smugglers near the coast of Djibouti. The migrants were reportedly traveling from Yemen back towards the Horn of Africa after they had failed to reach Saudi Arabia.
In 2017, up to 50 migrants from Somalia and Ethiopia were "deliberately drowned" when a smuggler forced more than 120 migrants into the sea as their boat was approaching Yemen's coast, IOM said. Survivors said the smuggler in charge of the boat had pushed them in the sea "when he saw some ‘authority types’ near the coast," the IOM reported.
And in 2018, at least 30 migrants and refugees died when a boat capsized off Yemen, with survivors reporting gunfire. The boat was reportedly operated by smugglers who were attempting to take the migrants to Djibouti, while also trying to extort more money from these refugees and migrants, IOM and the UN refugee agency UNHCR said in a joint statement in January 2018.
Stuck in war-torn Yemen
Hundreds of thousands of Africans are still choosing to migrate along the so-called "Eastern Route" between the Horn of Africa and the Gulf States. But a growing number are giving up on their dream and going back home after being unable to cross into Saudi Arabia and becoming stranded in war-torn Yemen.
A report by IOM Nairobi in October 2020 found that many migrants were unaware of the risks when they departed their home countries in hopes of reaching the Gulf States.
With Reuters, IOM, AP