Yemen- At least 55 people are feared to have drowned off the coast of Yemen after being forced from a migrant boat by smugglers in the second such incident in two days, the UN migration agency has said.
Five bodies were recovered during an International Organisation for Migration (IOM) beach patrol in Shabwa province, and about 50 more people were missing.
On Wednesday the IOM said 51 people had been “deliberately drowned” in a similar incident. Survivors told the IOM that the smuggler pushed about 120 people into the sea after he thought he had seen some “authority-type” figures off the Yemeni coast. The passengers’ average age was about 16, the IOM said.
“The utter disregard for human life by these smugglers, and all human smugglers worldwide, is nothing less than immoral,” said William Lacy Swing, director general of the IOM. “What is a teenager’s life worth? On this route to the Gulf countries, it can be as little as $100.”
Yemen is in the midst of a protracted civil war and an outbreak of cholera, but migrants and refugees continue to arrive in their thousands, hoping to pass through and reach wealthy Middle East countries such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and the UAE.
The IOM says about 55,000 people have left Horn of Africa countries for Yemen since January, with most coming from Somalia and Ethiopia. A third of them are estimated to be women.
“There is something fundamentally wrong with this world if countless numbers of children can be deliberately and ruthlessly drowned in the ocean, when they are no longer an easy source of income, and nothing is done to stop it from ever happening again,” Swing said.
“It should never have happened in the first place. We should not have to wait for tragedies like these to show us that international cooperation must be enhanced to fight human smuggling – not just through policy but through real action along these smuggling routes.”
The conflict in Yemen is between Houthi rebels allied with former president Ali Abdullah Saleh and Saudi Arabia-backed forces loyal to the exiled president, Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.
Yemen’s humanitarian crisis has been described as the largest of its kind in the world. According to the World Health Organisation, suspected cholera cases have been reported in 95.6% of the country’s provinces.
Some of Thursday’s victims were found with their hands tied, suggesting survivors had tried to bestow some dignity on the victims by preparing their bodies for a traditional burial process.
On Wednesday, IOM staff found the shallow graves of 29 people and said a further 22 were still unaccounted for. According to the IOM, the victims had been buried by those who survived the journey. Aid agencies helped at least 27 survivors on the beach. Another 42 people appeared to have already departed.
“This is shocking and inhumane. The suffering of migrants on this migration route is enormous. Too many young people pay smugglers with the false hope of a better future,” said Laurent de Boeck, head of the IOM Yemen’s mission.
“The survivors told our colleagues on the beach that the smuggler pushed them into the sea, when he saw some ‘authority types’ near the coast,” De Boeck said. “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.”
Some Somalis are desperate to avoid years of chaos at home with attacks by homegrown extremist group al-Shabaab and a drought. Some Ethiopians have left home after months of deadly anti-government protests and a 10-month state of emergency.
“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”.
He expressed regret that the EU was more focused on the migration routes in the Mediterranean. “They have forgotten us a little bit,” De Boeck said.
In a statement, the IOM said: “This journey is especially hazardous during the current windy season in the Indian Ocean. Smugglers are active in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, offering fake promises to vulnerable migrants.”