Do migrant smugglers have a new trend?

Migrants are being forced off boats by smugglers in the Yemen coast

Do migrant smugglers have a new trend?

At least 59 migrants have died after being deliberately drowned, the International Organization of Migration (IOM) publicly stated. Many of the drowned were thought to be teenagers originating from Somalia and Ethiopia. Hundreds of asylum seekers were forced off of boats near the coast of Yemen; the spokeswoman for the UN's migration agency said the incidents "may be the start of a new trend".

“Recently, smugglers have been pushing migrants out of the boats, fearing that the security forces might arrest them. This is what happened last weekend in Shabowa”, affirmed Lina Koussa, IOM’s Emergency Response Officer in Aden, Yemen.

IOM staff found the shallow graves of 29 migrants on a beach in Shabwa during a routine patrol. The dead had been quickly buried by those who survived the smuggler’s deadly actions. “The approximate average age of the passengers on the boat was 16”, clarified the IOM in an official statement. Traffickers used beatings and threats of shooting to force more than 100 refugees, including children who could not swim, to jump into rough seas.

Survivors told officials that crew members armed with AK47s told around 120 men, women, and children that they would not be able to land them on the beaches in Yemen and forced them to jump into the water while still at least 1km offshore. “The psychological effect these experiences have on children can be enormous. This is why IOM has psychologists embedded in their patrolling teams on Yemen’s beaches. The deadly actions of the smugglers bring the total number of presumed dead, over the last two days, close to 70“, affirmed Koussa in a press briefing.

Migrants and refugees have been emigrating from the Horn of Africa to counties like Yemen thanks to its proximity and the perception of said country being a gateway to other Gulf states and even Europe. What the refugees seem to forget is that the nation is in the midst of a civil war and is facing a dire humanitarian crisis.

According to UN sources, African emigrants who arrive on Yemen’s shores –that’s if they are not forced into the sea to drown—also risk falling into the hands of criminal networks who hold them captive for several days to extort money in exchange for their freedom, so “the crisis, it is not only for their situation overseas but [also] arriving to firm land means a new paradox”, affirms Chissey Mueller, from the IOM mission in Yemen.

The smugglers that sail boats between the Horn of Africa profit easily because the distance is short (5 hours or less between Somalia and Yemen), and the demand is high, said Mueller.

The war in Yemen has left over 8,300 people dead and displaced millions since 2015, but the impoverished country continues to draw migrants seeking work in prosperous Gulf countries further north. More than 111,500 refugees and migrants landed on Yemen's shores last year, up from around 100,000 the year before, according to the Regional Mixed Migration Secretariat, a grouping of international agencies that monitors migration in the area.

 

Latin American Post | Carlos Eduardo Gómez Avella

Copy edited by Susana Cicchetto 

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