The drama took place off the coast of Djibouti. Smugglers threw dozens of people looking for immigration into the sea. Among them, at least 20 victims were said to have died, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) announced on Thursday.
The Bab el-Mandeb strait, which separates Djibouti from Yemen, is a key passage for international trade but also a place of smuggling of migrants, who use it to go and try their luck in the Arabian Peninsula, by paying for the services of smugglers. . “The survivors believe that at least 20 people were killed. Some are still missing. Five bodies were found on the coast ”of Djibouti, told AFP Yvonne Ndege, IOM spokesperson for East Africa and the Horn of Africa.
Survivors, treated in the Djiboutian town of Obock by this UN agency, said that at least 200 migrants were crammed into their boat, which left Djibouti on Wednesday morning.
“Thirty minutes after departure, the smugglers forced about 80 people to jump into the water,” said IOM in a statement sent on Thursday. Only 60 made it back to shore, adds Yvonne Ndege. “We are working closely with the Djiboutian authorities to provide assistance to migrants, but the tragedy of Wednesday is further proof that criminals continue to exploit for money people desperate to improve their living conditions (…)” , adds in this press release Stéphanie Daviot, head of the IOM in Djibouti.
Covid-19 disrupts crossings
The Strait of Bab el-Mandeb is used by migrants because of its narrower width – 30 km – than on the rest of the Gulf of Aden or the Red Sea. On the other hand, in Yemen, which has been in the throes of a civil war for six years, “thousands of migrants would be stranded,” notes IOM, adding that “many face extreme danger, exploitation and to abuse ”.
The organization notes that travel restrictions linked to the Covid-19 pandemic have “drastically” reduced crossings: 37,500 people passed through in 2020, against around 138,000 in 2019. “In January 2021, more than 2,500 reached Yemen from Djibouti and the fear is that, as restrictions ease, more migrants are waiting to cross, increasing the chances of future tragedies, ”continues IOM.
This incident is the third recorded by the organization in the past six months. Last October, 8 Ethiopian migrants died in similar circumstances and 12 others were reported missing.