Up to 50 Somalis and Ethiopians are feared dead after a smuggler taking dozens of migrants to Yemen forced them back into the Arabian Sea off the nation’s coast, the UN migration agency said.
Survivors of the incident told the International Organization for Migration that the smuggler pushed them back into the water after he saw “authority types,” according to Laurent de Boeck, the IOM Yemen Chief of Mission, in press statement posted to the group’s website.
“This is shocking and inhumane,” de Boeck said. “The suffering of migrants on this migration route is enormous. Too many young people pay smugglers with the false hope of a better future.”
The migrants had been hoping to reach the Gulf via Yemen to find better opportunities and escape the political instability and violence plaguing their nations.
The IOM estimates 55,000 migrants left the Horn of Africa to come to Yemen since January. Smugglers work in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden.
More than 30,000 of those migrants are under age 18 and from Somalia or Ethiopia, while a third are estimated to be female.
The trip across the waters from Somalia to Yemen is fraught with peril, with Yemen engulfed in war. A boat carrying Somali migrants was attacked in March, killing 42. Windy season in the Indian Ocean makes the trip especially dangerous.
The smuggler’s boat approaching Yemen on Wednesday was near the Shabwa coast. The IOM said the smuggler pushed 120 Ethiopians and Somalis into the sea.
The “shallow graves” of 29 migrants were found on a beach in Shabwa. Twenty-two people are missing.
Medics provided care to 27 surviving migrants. Some survivors left the beach before help arrived.
The average age of the people headed to Yemen on Wednesday was 16.
Survivors told IOM the smuggler returned to Somalia to pick up more migrants for Yemen using the same route.