Twelve migrants died and others are missing after they were thrown off a boat by smugglers off Djibouti in the Horn of Africa, the UN International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said.
The bodies washed up on the coast near Obock ,a small port town on the Gulf of Aden, were recovered and buried by IOM staff, the UN agency said.
The victims were part of a group of about 50 Ethiopians, including women, on a boat returning from Yemen, when violence apparently broke out. Thirty-four migrants who survived are being treated for minor injuries and shock and are being cared for by the UN agency at its migrant response centre in Obock.
The tragedy –12 days after eight migrants were killed and others injured by smugglers in the same area – is a reminder of the humanitarian imperative to save lives, Mohammed Abdiker, IOM regional director for East and Horn of Africa, said.
“To say more needs to be done to respond to migrants trying to reach the country, taking these perilous journeys and being exploited by smugglers, who have no regard for human life, is an understatement,” he said.
Movement restrictions due to COVID-19 left at least 14 500 African migrants stranded in Yemen, with virtually no access to food, water or healthcare while living through conflict and a disease outbreak.
African migrants are forced to rely on smugglers to survive and, with no other options, some turn to them for the perilous sea journey back to Djibouti and the Horn of Africa, said IOM.
IOM is supporting stranded migrants in Yemen and Djibouti, it is imperative a safe and reliable humanitarian return pathway is established to stop further deaths at sea, the UN agency warned.
“We fear despite this tragedy, migrants may still wait for a chance to re-cross the Gulf of Aden, heightening the prospect of more fatalities,” according to IOM.