Five migrants are dead and more than 50 are missing after smugglers forced them from a boat off the coast of Yemen in the second such drowning in two days, the U.N. migration agency said Thursday.
The International Organization for Migration’s statement came less than a day after it said up to 50 migrants from Ethiopia and Somalia were “deliberately drowned” by a smuggler in a separate boat off Yemen.
Up to 180 migrants were forced from the boat in the latest incident Thursday morning, the IOM said.
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“We have the five bodies for sure, we know that they are dead but we believe that there are certainly more than 50 who are still in the sea,” Laurent de Boeck, the IOM’s chief of mission in Yemen, told The Associated Press. “The smugglers dropped them into the sea instead of bringing them to the shore.”
The narrow waters between the Horn of Africa and Yemen have been a popular migration route despite Yemen’s ongoing conflict. Migrants, most of them Ethiopians, try to make their way to the oil-rich Gulf countries.
“They are not aware at all that there is a war. Sometimes they don’t even believe us when we explain it to them,” de Boeck said. Just by making land they feel “they are halfway to wealthy.”
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In the first drownings on Wednesday, a smuggler forced more than 120 migrants into the sea as they approached Yemen’s coast, the IOM said. Its staffers found the shallow graves of 29 of the migrants on a beach in Shabwa during a routine patrol. The dead were buried by those who survived. At least 22 migrants remained missing.
The passengers’ average age was around 16, the IOM said.
“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,” de Boeck said Wednesday. “They also told us that the smuggler has already returned to Somalia to continue his business and pick up more migrants to bring to Yemen on the same route.”
De Boeck called the suffering of migrants on the route enormous, especially during the current windy season on the Indian Ocean. “Too many young people pay smugglers with the false hope of a better future,” he said.
The IOM says about 55,000 migrants have left Horn of Africa nations for Yemen since January, with most from Somalia and Ethiopia as they flee drought and unrest at home. Many leave from points in Djibouti, with some departing from Somalia. A third of them are estimated to be women.
“Some are coming for the third time. They didn’t succeed, they went back home, but the parents didn’t agree with the fact that they didn’t succeed so they send them back. And they have no choice,” de Boeck told the AP. “They are between 12 and 25 years old, and the parents and the role they have in the family is far more important than their own situation.”
He also expressed regret that the European Union is more focused on the migration routes on the Mediterranean, which also have proven to be deadly as smugglers set flimsy boats packed with migrants adrift toward Europe.
“They have forgotten us a little bit,” de Boeck said.
In Ethiopia, people expressed their outrage on social media over the drownings.
“This is an unprecedented level of cruelty,” wrote one Facebook user, Behailu Talegeta.
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Despite the fighting in Yemen, African migrants continue to arrive in the war-torn country where there is no central authority to prevent them from traveling onward. The migrants are vulnerable to abuse by armed trafficking rings, many of them believed to be connected to the armed groups involved in the war.
Yemen’s conflict itself is a deadly risk. In March, Somalia’s government blamed the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen for an attack on a boat that killed at least 42 Somali refugees off Yemen’s coast.
More than 111,500 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.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.