Smug­glers push mi­grants into sea off Ye­men, 55 feared dead

New Straits Times - - World -

DUBAI: Some 180 young Ethiopian and So­mali mi­grants, many weak­ened by hunger and drought in their home coun­tries, were forced from a boat into rough seas off Ye­men by smug­glers yes­ter­day and 55 were pre­sumed to have drowned, the United Na­tions mi­gra­tion agency said.

It was the sec­ond such in­ci­dent in as many days off Shabwa province in south­ern Ye­men, where 50 teenage African mi­grants were “de­lib­er­ately drowned” on Wed­nes­day by a smug­gler who forced 120 pas­sen­gers off his boat, the In­ter­na­tional Or­gan­i­sa­tion for Mi­gra­tion (IOM) said.

Smug­glers were push­ing mi­grants into the sea away from the main­land to avoid en­coun­ter­ing pos­si­bly armed groups on shore in the war-torn coun­try. They were then go­ing back to pick up more mi­grants.

“We have seen five bod­ies and can con­firm five dead... Fifty are still miss­ing from this in­ci­dent, so 55 are pre­sumed dead,” IOM spokesman Olivia Headon said.

“It may be the start of a new trend. Smug­glers know the sit­u­a­tion is dan­ger­ous for them and they could be shot at, so they drop them near the shore and turn around and get more.”

IOM of­fi­cials spoke to 25 sur­vivors, many in need of med­i­cal as­sis­tance and coun­selling sup­port, she said.

“Th­ese peo­ple are re­ally thin. There is a drought sit­u­a­tion in So­ma­lia and Ethiopia. Some may not have had much strength to make it alive to the shore.”

The mi­grants re­ported that 100 other sur­vivors had left the beach.

Some 55,000 mi­grants have taken the haz­ardous route from the Horn of Africa to Ye­men to seek pos­si­ble op­por­tu­ni­ties of­fered in the Gulf, IOM said.

Ye­men it­self is riven by a twoyear civil war in which forces loyal to the Saudi-backed gov­ern­ment are pit­ted against Ira­nian-backed Houthi rebels.

In March, a he­li­copter opened fire on a boat car­ry­ing over 140 pas­sen­gers off Ye­men’s Red Sea coast, killing 42 civil­ians and wound­ing 34. Agen­cies

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