In less than 24 hours, two separate groups of migrants and refugees were “deliberately drowned” by human smugglers off the coast of Yemen. The first incident occurred Wednesday, August 9, 2017, when the International Organization of Migration (IOM) found 29 bodies buried on the beach. According to Laurent de Boeck, IOM’s chief of missions in Yemen, “the survivors told our colleagues on the beach that the smuggler pushed them to the sea when he saw some ‘authority types’ near the coast.” Some survivors remained on the beach and have been helped by the IOM while others left the beach before any help could arrive. The second drowning occurred Thursday morning when up to three- hundred migrants and refugees were forced off their boat by human smugglers. Five bodies have been recovered but fifty people remain missing. The average age of the passengers was sixteen.
In 2016, over 111,500 refugees and migrants entered Yemen, according to the Regional Mixed Migration Secretariat. This year, the IOM estimates 55,000 left the Horn of Africa for Yemen since January. Most of these migrants and refugees are women and under eighteen. For people escaping Djibouti, Ethiopia, and Somalia, Yemen’s insecure borders and proximity make it a popular migration route to reach oil-rich Gulf countries and Europe. However, Yemen is war-torn and unstable and many refugees are unable to make it to their final destinations. Instead, they go through other countries like Libya and Egypt. There is no central authority that prevents migrants and refugees from entering Yemen but it is still dangerous for human smugglers to be caught. According to a spokesperson for the IOM, “smugglers know the situation is dangerous for them and they could be shot at, so they drop [passengers] near the shore.”
Both the United Nations and the IOM caution that the two incidents will not be the last. According to de Boeck, “they [the survivors] also told us that the smuggler has already returned to Somalia to continue his business and pick up more migrants to bring to Yemen on the same route. This is shocking and inhumane. The suffering of migrants on this migration route is enormous. Too many young people pay smugglers with the false hope of a better future.” Refugees and migrants are incredibly vulnerable to human traffickers and con artists who make false promises. Since war broke out in Yemen, human smuggling has increased because of the instability. De Boeck said in a statement, “it’s absolutely awful, and this is reflected in the real big business, which is happening now in Yemen where there is no capacity to actually control the border. We have seen since the war increased smuggling to the country actually.”
Migrants and refugees fleeing their home countries face incredible dangers to reach safety. The tragedy of the two “deliberate drownings” reminds us that far too often, people take advantage of the vulnerability of refugees and place them in even more danger. As war continues to ravage Yemen, people escaping from the Horn of Africa to Yemen will continue to be victims of inescapable violence.