The International Organization for Migration has said at least eight migrants have drowned and 12 went missing after smugglers forced them off a boat near the Horn of Africa nation of Djibouti.
More than 30 people on board – thought to be Ethiopian – had been attempting to return to East Africa from Yemen. The Covid-19 pandemic and the conflict in Yemen have made the journey to Gulf nations more dangerous, and some migrants have turned back.
A spokesperson for the International Organization for Migration said 14 survivors are receiving medical treatment in Djibouti.
Some 14,000 African migrants are stranded in Yemen trying to return home after being expelled by Saudi Arabia as part of measures to control the coronavirus pandemic.
It is believed this boatload of migrants had failed to reach Saudi Arabia, the statement said.
Witnesses said three smugglers forced the young men and women into the water.
“Smugglers are known to exploit migrants on this route in this way, many having to pay or their families having to pay large sums to facilitate travel,” the statement said.
Eight bodies washed up onshore and were buried by authorities in Djibouti.
“This tragedy is a wake-up call,” said IOM spokeswoman Yvonne Ndege, warning that further tragedies could occur as hundreds of migrants are leaving Yemen every day on the precarious voyage by boat across the Bab al Mandeb strait.
In 2017, up to 50 migrants from Somalia and Ethiopia were “deliberately drowned” when a smuggler forced them into the sea off Yemen’s coast.
And in 2018, at least 30 migrants and refugees died when a boat capsized off Yemen, with survivors reporting gunfire.
In September this year, more than 2,000 African migrants returned from Yemen and were assisted by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), in Djibouti, Horn of Africa.
The migrants, from Ethiopia, Somalia and Eritrea, including children as young as eight-years-old, returned to Djibouti after failing to reach the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia due to COVID-19 movement restrictions, border closures, and extreme danger along this migratory route.
They arrived hungry, tired and in need of medical assistance after making the treacherous boat journey back across the Gulf of Aden, and then walking for days to the town of Obock through the Djiboutian desert where temperatures reach 40C.
Many were forced to pay smugglers who often abandon them in the desert without food and water. Several of the migrants said they witnessed others die along the way due to dehydration.
IOM has helped and treated hundreds of migrants along the way over the last few months.
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