AIR STRIKE

Men, women and chil­dren mowed down on boat while try­ing to es­cape war-torn Ye­men

CityPress - - News -

The UN High Com­mis­sioner for Refugees (UNHCR), also known as the UN Refugee Agency, yes­ter­day be­moaned the killing of at least 40 So­mali refugees off the coast of Ye­men late on Thurs­day when a he­li­copter at­tacked the boat they were trav­el­ling in.

It is un­der­stood that the refugees were car­ry­ing of­fi­cial UNHCR doc­u­ments and were on their way from Ye­men to Su­dan when they were at­tacked by an Apache he­li­copter near the Bab el-Man­deb strait.

The UNHCR said on its Twit­ter ac­count at least 40 refugees were re­ported dead. But the In­ter­na­tional Com­mit­tee of the Red Cross put the death toll at 33 and said 29 were wounded and other pas­sen­gers were still miss­ing. It was not im­me­di­ately clear who car­ried out the at­tack. Reuters quoted Red Cross spokesper­son Iolanda Jaque­met say­ing sur­vivors told them they came un­der at­tack from an­other boat at 9pm, de­spite their crew us­ing lights and shout­ing to sig­nal that it was “a civil­ian boat”.

“Nev­er­the­less, it did not have any ef­fect and a he­li­copter joined in the at­tack,” she said.

Shabia Man­too, the UNHCR spokesper­son in Ye­men, con­firmed that a num­ber of refugees were killed. “We are dis­tressed by this in­ci­dent and un­der­stand that refugees were trav­el­ling in a ves­sel off the coast of Hu­day­dah, which was re­port­edly im­pacted dur­ing the course of hos­til­i­ties,” she said.

A sailor who had been op­er­at­ing the boat, Ibrahim Ali Zeyad, said 80 refugees had been res­cued.

The In­ter­na­tional Or­gan­i­sa­tion for Mi­gra­tion said the num­ber of dead could be more than 31.

“We just got in­for­ma­tion of a he­li­copter as­sault on a boat leav­ing Ye­men, we be­lieve for Su­dan, full of So­ma­lis,” spokesper­son Joel Mill­man told a news brief­ing in Geneva.

He said the or­gan­i­sa­tion was aware of 80 sur­vivors brought to hos­pi­tals in Hu­day­dah.

The Red Cross’ Eric Christo­pher Wyss said: “It was a heart­break­ing scene. I saw many men, women and chil­dren ei­ther killed or hor­ri­bly wounded.”

The Saudi-led coali­tion that is fight­ing Houthi forces in Ye­men said it did not con­duct any op­er­a­tions or have any en­gage­ment in the Hu­day­dah area on Thurs­day.

Coali­tion spokesper­son Gen­eral Ahmed al-Asseri said Hu­day­dah re­mained un­der the con­trol of the Houthis and the port con­tin­ued to be used for “traf­fick­ing peo­ple, smug­gling weapons and at­tacks against the line of com­mu­ni­ca­tions in the Red Sea”.

Hu­day­dah is con­trolled by Iran-al­lied Houthi fight­ers who over­ran Ye­men’s cap­i­tal Sanaa in 2014 and forced the Saudi-backed gov­ern­ment of Pres­i­dent Abd-Rabbu Man­sour Hadi to flee into ex­ile.

The Saudi-led coali­tion was formed in 2015 to fight the Houthis and troops loyal to for­mer pres­i­dent Ali Ab­dul­lah Saleh, who have fired mis­siles into neigh­bour­ing Saudi Ara­bia.

The Bab el-Man­deb is a strate­gic water­way in the Red Sea through which nearly 4 mil­lion bar­rels of oil are shipped daily.

Ma­jor Gen­eral Ahmed As­siri, spokesper­son for the Saudiled coali­tion, dis­missed the ac­cu­sa­tion, say­ing that the force had not been in­volved in fight­ing in Hu­day­dah.

“There has been no fir­ing by the coali­tion in this zone,” he said. The king­dom’s Al Mad­i­nah-class frigates, one of which was dam­aged in an at­tack by a Houthi mili­tia in Jan­uary, are also ca­pa­ble of car­ry­ing a sin­gle he­li­copter.

Other naval forces op­er­at­ing in the area are also equipped with he­li­copters, in­clud­ing the US mil­i­tary.

Pen­tagon spokesper­son Adam Stump de­nied US in­volve­ment, say­ing no US strikes had been con­ducted in Ye­men in the pre­vi­ous 24 hours.

De­spite the wit­ness ac­count, de­tails of the in­ci­dent re­mained con­fus­ing. A port of­fi­cial gave a con­tra­dic­tory ac­count of the in­ci­dent, telling AFP the boat had docked at the port, and the dead and in­jured had been hit with light weapons fire.

Images from the af­ter­math showed Ye­meni of­fi­cials in Hu­day­dah ex­am­in­ing some of the re­cov­ered bod­ies at the city’s port, in­clud­ing men, women and chil­dren.

Al-Has­san Ghaleb Mo­hammed told AP the So­ma­lis on board had been try­ing to es­cape from war-torn Ye­men and cross the Red Sea to get to Su­dan in Africa.

Com­ment­ing on the in­ci­dent, the UNHCR con­demned “this tragic in­ci­dent, the lat­est in which civil­ians con­tinue to dis­pro­por­tion­ately bear the brunt of con­flict in Ye­men”.

– Staff re­porter, with Reuters and Al Jazeera

PHOTO: AB­DEL-KARIM MUHAMMED / AP

MAS­SA­CRED Bod­ies of So­mali mi­grants – killed in an at­tack by a he­li­copter while trav­el­ling in a boat off the coast of Ye­men – lie on the ground at Hu­day­dah City, Ye­men, on Fri­day. A he­li­copter gun­ship at­tacked the mi­grants on Thurs­day, killing at least 31 peo­ple

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