10 August 2017

Africa: Nearly 200 Refugees 'Thrown' Into Yemen Sea, 50 Missing

Photo: RFI
(File photo).

More refugees and migrants have been "deliberately drowned" by human smugglers for the second time in 24 hours off the coast of Yemen, according to the United Nations migration agency.

Patrol teams from the International Organization for Migration (IOM) found in the south of Yemen at least five bodies on Thursday morning, and are still searching for at least 50 more who remain missing.

"It is indeed a very dramatic situation," Laurent de Boeck, the agency's Yemen chief of mission, told Al Jazeera from Brussels on Thursday.

"They were in a boat with smugglers, who dropped them at sea before arriving at the shores. Some people have disappeared. But others were actually buried by their friends on the beaches."

De Boeck said the incident was reported by some of the survivors, whom he described as "exhausted and under shock".

"This situation is new," he said, adding that "it is the first time" that his agency documented people being forced out of the boats by smugglers before reaching the shores.

De Boeck said that the civil war in Yemen and the collapse of the state have allowed "criminal networks to act freely", endangering many refugees and migrants.

Desperate crossing

"The control of the border is indeed not a priority in a country in war," he said. "Yemen, for more than two years now, is in civil war with a lot of displaced population."

The war between the Saudi-backed government and Iran-backed Houthi rebels in one of the world's most impoverished countries has killed more than 10,000 people and wounded a further 44,500 since Riyadh and its allies joined the conflict in 2015.

On Wednesday, IOM reported that up to 50 refugees, many from Somalia and Ethiopia, had drowned.

"The survivors told our colleagues on the beach that the smuggler pushed them to the sea when he saw some 'authority types' near the coast," said de Boeck in an earlier interview on Wednesday.

In the incident on Wednesday, the smuggler forced more than 120 people into the sea as they approached Yemen's coast, the IOM statement said.

The passengers' average age was 16, the agency said.

De Boeck told Al Jazeera on Thursday that smugglers from Djibouti, Ethiopia and Somalia work with their counterparts in Yemen to transport people across the Horn of Africa.

The narrow waters between the Horn of Africa and Yemen have been a popular migration route despite Yemen's ongoing conflict. Refugees and migrants try to make their way to the oil-rich Gulf countries.

But once in Yemen, the refugees and migrants face the brutality of war, forcing them back to Sudan, Egypt and Libya, where they cross the Mediterranean to reach Europe.

More than 111,500 refugees and migrants landed on Yemen's shores last year, up from around 100,000 the year before, according to the Regional Mixed Migration Secretariat, a grouping of international agencies that monitors migration in the area.

Since January this year, the IOM said that about 55,000 people had left Horn of Africa nations for Yemen. A third of them are estimated to be women.


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