Two vessels carrying migrants departed from Godoria on the country’s northeast coast on Tuesday morning but sank in heavy seas 30 minutes into the journey, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
The IOM’s chief of mission in Djibouti Lalini Veerassamy told AFP news agency that the death toll had reached 43 on Wednesday.
“This tragic event demonstrates the risks that vulnerable migrants face as they innocently search for better lives,” said Veerassamy in a statement.
Sixteen people were rescued following the sinkings, with one survivor telling Djiboutian authorities there were 130 people on his boat.
The number of passengers on the second vessel remains unclear, as do the nationalities of those aboard.
The coastguard is still conducting search and rescue operations with patrol boats.
A vital junction
The region of Obock, from where the boat set off for Yemen, is unusual in that it sees people passing in both directions – boatloads of Yemeni refugees fleeing war cross vessels carrying African migrants seeking better opportunities.
In 2017 some 2,900 people, mostly Somalis and Ethiopians, passed through from Yemen, a year that saw about 100,000 migrants head into the troubled country.
“The number of new arrivals arriving in Yemen has been continuously increasing since 2012, despite the deepened insecurity and violence following the war that erupted in March 2015,” the IOM said in its 2018-2020 regional migration response plan.
“Arrivals peaked in 2016 when over 117,000 arrived in Yemen,” it added.
A perilous journey
This migration comes despite Yemen facing one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises.
UN officials say 80 percent of the population – 24 million people – are in need of aid and nearly 10 million are just one step away from famine.
IOM said that most of the journey migrants take to Yemen is by foot, walking across the scorching desert regions of eastern Ethiopia, Djibouti and northern Somalia.
The sea crossing itself has repeatedly proven perilous.
Last year, at least 30 migrants from Somalia and Ethiopia believed to be headed for Djibouti drowned when their boat capsized off Yemen amid reports of gunfire being used against those on board.
In August 2017, dozens of migrants from Somalia and Ethiopia died after human traffickers forced them off two Yemen-bound boats and into the sea.