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Migrants Falling Victim to Smuggler Abuses off the Coast of Yemen

“They told us to jump. Some people shouted and begged the smugglers to take us closer, but they refused and started beating people with sticks. They had AK47s, so everyone was afraid to argue, and people started jumping into the sea. Unfortunately, very few survived. I remember some were very young and did not know how to swim.” – Abdirahim Ilmi Aano, a Somali migrant

Each year, thousands of migrants from the Horn of Africa region, over half of them children, risk their lives on this dangerous route through war-torn Yemen to seek better opportunities in the Gulf countries. Since January, IOM estimates that about 55,000 migrants, many of them from Somalia and Ethiopia, have embarked on this route. At least 114 migrants have died or are still missing off the coast, although the actual total is likely to be much higher.

On the morning of August 10th, up to 180 Ethiopian migrants were violently forced into the Arabian Sea by human smugglers. IOM estimated that at least six of the migrants died, their bodies washed up on the beach, and another 13 remained unaccounted for. This tragedy occurred just one day after the presumed death of 50 Ethiopian and Somali migrants at the hands of smugglers during a similar incident off the Yemeni coast.

Our partner, IOM, discovered the migrants’ dead bodies on the beach. As a first responder to the calamity, IOM worked to provide food, water and emergency medical assistance to the survivors.

According to survivors’ testimonies collected by IOM staff, smugglers forced the migrants to squat in place for the 24-36-hour sea journey from Somalia to Yemen in order to increase the number of people that could be crammed into the boat. In some cases, smugglers tied the migrants’ hands together, rendering them powerless to escape.

“The utter disregard for human life by these smugglers, and all human smugglers worldwide, is nothing less than immoral. What is a teenager’s life worth? On this route to the Gulf countries, it can be as little as 100 USD,” said IOM’s Director General William L. Swing regarding the tragedy. “I am making a promise to them that IOM will not forget them and will continue to fight to protect the rights and dignity of future generations of migrants.”

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