Scores of migrants were forced overboard by smugglers off the coast of Yemen — the second such incident in as many days. Up to 180 people were forced off a boat Thursday and at least five have drowned and 50 are still missing, according to the International Organization for Migration.
“We have the five bodies for sure … 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.
It wasn’t immediately clear where the refugees came from, but in a similar incident on Wednesday, 120 migrants from Ethiopia and Somalia were forced overboard in the same area by smugglers who feared arrest if they were caught with human cargo. Twenty-nine of them died, and 22 are still missing.
“They were in a boat with smugglers, who dropped them at sea before arriving at the shores. Some people have disappeared. But others were actually buried by their friends on the beaches,” de Boeck told Al-Jazeera, adding that it’s the first time the group had documented such cases in the region.
Yemen, although wracked by civil war, has become a destination for migrants from the Horn of Africa who are seeking jobs in wealthy Gulf countries, such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
“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 told the AP, explaining why refugees would come to Yemen. Just by making land they feel “they are halfway to wealthy.”
The IOM estimates that about 55,000 migrants have left the Horn of Africa for Yemen so far this year. Most come from Somalia and Ethiopia.
“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.”
The Regional Mixed Migration Secretariat, a group of international agencies that monitors migration, says 111,500 refugees and migrants arrived in Yemen last year and 100,000 in 2015, contributing to a humanitarian crisis in that country.