ADDIS ABABA – The United Nations migration agency has said at least eight migrants have died and many more are injured after being forced off a boat by smugglers off the coast of Djibouti.
The migrants were traveling from Yemen, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said in a statement issued on Monday.
The agency said it has assisted Djiboutian authorities as they attended to the grim task of recovering and burying eight drowning victims whose remains washed ashore after the lethal journey from Yemen over the weekend.
The victims – a total of 34 mainly Ethiopian and Somali migrants – were seeking to return to Africa after a failed attempt to go to the Arabian Gulf.
A 19-year-old survivor Galgalou Haji Wacho said, “It was at night and the smugglers turned off all the lights on the boat, claiming we were being followed the Coast Guard”.
“But they were lying,” he said. “There was no Coast Guard. They started hitting us with sticks and iron bars.”
He and twenty-five others, some of whom suffered injuries, are receiving medical treatment at IOM’s Migrant Response Centre in Obock.
While thousands of African migrants remain stranded Yemen, authorities fear some of those may be waiting for a chance to re-cross the dangerous waters many already braved to get to the Arabian Gulf just months ago.
Thus, the prospect grows of more fatalities in the coming weeks and days, according IOM.
“This tragedy is a wake-up call,” said Stephanie Daviot, Chief of Mission at IOM Djibouti. “Migrants are arriving in Djibouti in large numbers from Yemen.”
“Risking their lives, facing exploitation from smugglers, and in this instance, very tragically, death and injury, these migrants run a gauntlet that makes a mockery of respecting migrants’ human rights and dignity,” she said.
“IOM is concerned there could be further drownings”.
The tragedy follows the arrival of some 2,678 migrants from Yemen into Djibouti since July, according to IOM data.
In 2017, up to 50 migrants from Somalia and Ethiopia were “deliberately drowned” when a smuggler forced them into the sea off Yemen’s coast.
And in 2018, at least 30 migrants and refugees died when a boat capsized off Yemen, with survivors reporting gunfire.