Yemen: Refugees Deliberately Drowned


On the morning of August 9, 2017, 120 migrants from Somalia and Ethiopia were forced into the rough Arabian Sea by a human smuggler. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) reports that shortly after the incident occurred, staff found the shallow graves of 29 migrants on a beach in Yemen’s Shabwa, with 27 surviving migrants receiving urgent care and more than 20 migrants are still missing.

Laurent de Boeck, the IOM Yemen Chief of Mission explained the incident: “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.” De Boeck states that survivors said, “the smuggler has already returned to Somalia to continue his business and pick up more migrants to bring to Yemen on the same route.” The IOM estimates that around 55,000 migrants have left the Horn of Africa for Yemen since January, and more than 30,000 of those are under the age of 18.

This is not an uncommon occurrence, as the IOM reports that on August 10, 2017, another 160 migrants were forced into the sea. The incident occurred again off the coast of Shabwa, with staff from the IOM finding six bodies on the beach and attended to 57 migrants that needed urgent medical assistance. Meanwhile, the journey between the Horn of Africa and Yemen continues to be a popular migration route regardless of the violent conflict in Yemen.

Furthermore, the recent inhumane acts demonstrate the lack of protection and security migrants suffer. To expand, U.N spokesman Stéphane Dujarric expressed this concern, stating “We must also increase legal pathways for regular migration and offer credible alternative to these dangerous crossings for people in need of international protection.” With that said, while increasing the legal pathways for regular migration would certainly be a step in the right direction, it must be addressed and implemented rapidly. This is because the IOM believes that forcing migrants into the sea could become a new trend for human smugglers to avoid any disputes with authorities.

Moreover, as previously mentioned, the dangerous journey to reach Yemen is attempted by thousands of migrants, many of whom are teenagers. “Too many young people pay smugglers with the false hope of a better future” states de Boeck. Thus, as the situation in Yemen continues to be extremely dangerous, IOM Director General William Lacy Swing states that the journey to the Gulf countries is still being managed by human smugglers that can charge “as little as 100 USD.” In addition, data from the UNHCR reveals that the route has also been popular in the past, with a solid increase of movements from Africa specifically to Yemen “up from 65,000 in 2013 …[to] 92,500 in 2015.”

Therefore, while putting an end to the issue of human smugglers operating dangerous routes would be significantly difficult, the UNHCR continues to raise awareness of the dangers that migrants may face attempting to reach Yemen by launching a campaign specifically addressing these dangers. The UN’s demand for an increase in legal pathways for regular migration may certainly decrease the number of migrants attempting a risky journey if implemented correctly. However, currently, Yemen requires significant help and support from the international community, “…to reinforce law enforcement and humanitarian border management with the aim of protecting vulnerable migrants,” said IOM Director General.