A boat thought to have been carrying between 160 and 200 people overturned at the weekend off the coast of Yemen. The bodies of 25 migrants have already been recovered and as many as 175 migrants are still missing.
"The boat overturned two days ago and was carrying between 160 and 200 people," a Yemeni official told news agency Agence France Presse (AFP) on Monday, June 14. The official was in turn citing information he had received from Yemeni smugglers, reports AFP.
The UN migration agency IOM said on Monday it was "verifying reports" of the capsize. In a tweet, it said that the vessel was thought to be transporting migrants from the Horn of Africa on the continent’s north-east coast towards Yemen. The boat, they said had sunk. "IOM teams are on the ground and ready to respond to the needs of survivors," the agency added.
25 bodies found floating in the 'Gate of Hell'
According to AFP, fisherman found 25 bodies recovered so far, floating in an area known by locals as the "Gate of Hell" because there is so much human trafficking going on in the area. The fishermen said that the bodies they found appeared to be of African origin.
"We found 25 bodies of Africans who drowned when a boat carrying dozens of them sank off the Yemeni shores," one of the fishermen was reported saying by AFP. The bodies appear to have been floating around "ten miles from the shores of the local waters known as Ras al-Ara, off the southern province of Lahij."
A picture posted on the Irish national broadcaster RTE of the Bab al-Mandab strait of water separating Djibouti from Yemen shows high dark rocky cliffs spilling directly into the water. Navigating the narrow strip of water looks dangerous for those who don’t know the currents and safe landing spots. Recently, report AFP, locals have complained that the area has become a "free-for-all for human traffickers" with no action being taken by the authorities.
Poverty and civil war
Yemen is now seven years into a civil war with poverty, malnutrition and displacement affecting much of its population and the migrants who still make their way to the country in hope of finding work in the economies of Yemen’s more prosperous Gulf neighbors.
This latest shipwreck is not the first in the area. The IOM’s Missing Migrants project has details of several, in which tens and hundreds of migrants have lost their lives both traveling to Yemen and trying to escape from the war in the country and get back to their countries in the Horn of Africa and beyond.
In April, the IOM confirmed that at least 44 migrants died after their boat left Yemen, traveling towards Africa. "Every year, tens of thousands of young African migrants from the Horn of Africa region make the dangerous journey from countries like Somalia and Ethiopia, through Djibouti and Yemen in search of work," explained an IOM press release in April.
According to that agency, at least 5,100 migrants have traveled from Africa to Yemen this year so far. In 2020, the IOM said 35,000 migrants took the route to Yemen and in 2019 127,000 people headed to try and find work in the Gulf.
In April, the IOM estimated that "more than 32,000 migrants, mostly from Ethiopia," were stranded in Yemen after failing either to find work or to secure onward travel to a richer country. In March, another shipwreck was reported, in which "at least 20 people drowned according to survivors," the IOM stated. On that boat, headed for Yemen, smugglers reportedly threw 80 people overboard because of overcrowding which was threatening to sink the boat.
Migrants who have traveled to Yemen and then find themselves stuck are forced to pay smugglers again for a passage back home, money many of them don’t have. The IOM in Djibouti and Yemen "is providing food, water, medical care and counselling for survivors of such tragedies and other migrants," stated an IOM press release in April.
With AFP, AP and Reuters