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 chief for Yemen, told Al Jazeera from Brussels on Thursday.
“They were in a boat with smugglers, who dropped them at sea before arriving at the shore. 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.
William Lacy Swing, the head of IOM, lamented the deaths in a video posted on Twitter, saying there was “something fundamentally wrong with this world if countless numbers of children can be deliberately and ruthlessly drowned”.
He described the smuggling route from the Horn of Africa to Yemen as “a busy and extremely dangerous route” because of the conflict there.
The war between the Saudi-backed government and Iran-backed Houthi rebels has killed more than 10,000 people and wounded a further 44,500 since 2015.
— IOM (@UNmigration) August 10, 2017
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.
Source: Al Jazeera News