Tragedy Strikes As Refugees Killed By Smugglers Near Yemen

On August 9th, 50 Somali and Ethiopian migrants were “deliberately drowned” in the Arabian Sea off the coast of Yemen on a boat that was smuggling 120 migrants, according to CNN. The boat was headed to Yemen, carrying young men and women that averaged age 16. The International Organization on Migration (IOM) stated that tragedies such as these have been occurring over the last several months, as smuggling operations often result in innocent lives being lost at sea. The IOM’s rescue workers and medical unit treated 27 survivors, however, 22 people are still unaccounted for, according to CNN.

This tragedy brings to light the devastating war happening in Yemen. Yemen has been experiencing political unrest the past two decades, but has received minimal coverage by the media. Millions have been displaced since the start of the war in 2015, and the deteriorating situation in Yemen remains unstable as fighting between the two forces continues. The rivalry between the Houthi, a Shia minority rebel group that has received military support from Iran, and Yemen government loyalist, who are a Sunni majority, has created a deadly civil war. The sectarian violence has been sustained by military intervention from middle eastern countries, including Saudi Arabia, who have attempted to bolster the Yemeni government, in turn escalating violence. There was widespread government corruption under former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who was in power for 33 years from 1978 until he was forced to step down in 2012. The Houthi claimed that they were marginalized and discriminated against by the Saleh government, and took arms against the government in the Yemeni uprising in 2011. There were mass demonstrations by Houthi rebels and the dissatisfied public that resulted in 2,000 deaths, according to BBC News.

Due to the Yemeni government’s failure to stabilize the situation in Yemen, international actors have repeatedly stepped in. Nonetheless, President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, who came to power in 2012 under a transitional government brokered by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) was also unable to stop the violence. Efforts towards the cessation of hostilities and restoration of peace by the National Dialogue Conference in 2013 were largely unsuccessful as the parties were in disagreement about how to distribute power throughout the government, according to Council on Foreign Relations. In 2014, Houthis captured the capital city of Sana’a, and still have a stronghold of the capital as President Hadi resigned in March of 2015. In November of 2016, a UN-mandated 48-hour ceasefire faced several violations in the first 10 hours of the ceasefire.

The majority of Yemen’s public does not support the Houthi movement as mass protests have been held against Houthi fighters, who have caused damages to Sunni mosques and terrorized innocent civilians. Terrorist organizations such as Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and Ansar al- Sharia have also taken full advantage of the political instability and captured coastal territory in Yemen.

In attempts to bolster the Hadi government, the Saudi Arabia-led coalition has been carrying out an air campaign against the Houthi, often resulting in indiscriminate killings, bombing schools and hospitals. In the midst of all this violence, civilian lives have been disrupted. Continual violence on the ground and spikes in airstrikes have resulted in civilian casualties and exacerbated the growing number of internally displaced people (IDPs) in Yemen. The UN reports that more than 60% of civilian casualties is a result of Saudi-led airstrikes. The BBC News reported in March of this year that there has been a staggering 7,600 deaths and 42,000 injuries since the start of the war in March 2015. Further, there is a humanitarian crisis as Yemen has become home to more than 2 million internally displaced people (IDP), according to the IOM. Violence and fighting has also forced 180,000 to flee the country.

Another consequence of this war is famine and disease. Yemen is experiencing what the UN considers “the worst cholera outbreak in the world.” The cholera epidemic has affected an estimated 500,000 people as of August and caused at least 2,000 deaths, according to the UN. UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake and WHO Director-General Margaret Chan attributed this epidemic to the war, stating that “This deadly cholera outbreak is the direct consequence of two years of heavy conflict. Collapsing health, water and sanitation systems have cut off 14.5 million people from regular access to clean water and sanitation, increasing the ability of the disease to spread.” Moreover, the UN warned that 17 million Yemenis are at risk of famine, which is more than half the country’s population, and 462,000 children under the age of five are malnourished. Although donor countries pledged more than $1 billion in humanitarian aid in April at a conference in Geneva, UN officials stated that it wasn’t sufficient for what they consider “the world’s largest hunger crisis.”

With no legitimate government, the political climate in Yemen is devastating and is in need of a peaceful solution to put an end to the humanitarian crisis.

Luisa Tembo