The International Organization for Migration (IOM) says more than 50 migrants, mostly teenagers, have been “deliberately” drowned by a human smuggler in rough seas off Yemen’s coast.
In a statement released on Wednesday, the IOM said the incident took place after the smuggler forced more than 120 migrants from Somalia and Ethiopia into the sea for fear of being arrested when they saw some “authority types” near the coast in the southern Yemeni province of Shabwa.
The IOM said it found the shallow graves of 29 migrants on the beach after they were buried by survivors, and that at least 22 other migrants remained missing.
“The smugglers deliberately pushed the migrants into the waters since they feared that they would be arrested by the authorities once they reach the shore,” an IOM emergency officer said.
There were “many women and children among those who died and those who are still missing,” he noted, adding that the passengers’ average age was around 16.
The survivors told the migration agency that the smuggler had already “returned to Somalia to continue his business and pick up more migrants to bring to Yemen on the same route.”
Laurent de Boeck, the IOM’s chief of mission in Yemen, described the ordeal as “shocking and inhumane,” and said the agency staffers had provided urgent care to the surviving migrants remaining on the beach.
Around 55,000 migrants have left the Horn of Africa nations for Yemen since January, with most from Somalia and Ethiopia aiming to find work in the Persian Gulf countries, according to the IOM.
Despite the years-long conflict gripping Yemen, African migrants continue to arrive in war-torn Yemen, where there is no central authority to prevent them from traveling onward.
Since March 2015, Saudi Arabia has been heavily bombarding Yemen as part of a brutal campaign against its impoverished southern neighbor in an attempt to reinstall the former government and crush the popular Houthi Ansarullah movement.
The Houthi movement has been running state affairs and defending the country against the Saudi war.
Latest figures show that the Saudi war has so far killed over 12,000 Yemenis and wounded thousands more.