Eight migrants died and 12 were missing after smugglers forced them off a boat near Djibouti, a spokeswoman for the International Organisation of Migration told AFP Sunday.
The migrants were all believed to be Ethiopians returning to the Horn of Africa after failing to reach Saudi Arabia via Yemen, due to Covid-19 border closures.
“At least 8 migrants have died and 12 are missing at sea after being forced off a boat by smugglers off the coast of Djibouti, Horn of Africa,” IOM spokeswoman Yvonne Ndege said.
“According to eyewitness survivors, assisted by IOM, three smugglers violently forced the young men and women off the vessel while still at sea.
“Smugglers are known to exploit migrants on this route in this way, many having to pay or their families having to pay large sums to facilitate travel.”
Ndege said there were 34 on board, and the boat was headed to the town of Obock, a major transit point in Djibouti for thousands of African migrants in the region trying to reach the Gulf.
At least 2,000 migrants have arrived in Djibouti from Yemen over the past three weeks, most trying to return home to Ethiopia, Somalia, and other nations in east Africa and the Horn, according to the IOM.
The United Nations agency has been providing emergency medical care, food, water, tents and counselling to the migrants.
“This tragedy is a wake up call. Hundreds of migrants are leaving Yemen everyday trying to reach Djibouti. Risking their lives, facing exploitation from people smugglers, and in this instance, very tragically, death and injury,” Ndege said.
In January 2019 at least 58 migrants — mostly Ethiopians — drowned after two vessels carrying them from Djibouti to Yemen sank.
The Bab el-Mandeb strait which separates Djibouti from Yemen is unusual in that it sees migrants and refugees passing in both directions — boatloads of Yemenis fleeing to Africa to escape war, while others head in the opposite direction carrying African migrants to the Arabian Peninsula in search of better opportunities.