As many as 50 Somali and Ethiopian migrants, many of them teenagers, are believed to have been “deliberately drowned” when a human smuggler in charge of a boat forced more than 120 people into the sea off the coast of Yemen, according to the U.N. agency on migration.
In a statement released early Thursday, the International Organization on Migration (IOM) said it had discovered the shallow graves of 29 people on a beach in Shabwa, a Yemeni Governorate along the Arabian Sea, during a routine patrol operation.
The organization said survivors of the tragedy, who had been hoping to transit through Yemen to reach other Gulf countries, had hastily buried the dead upon reaching the shore.
IOM medical personnel treated 27 survivors, who were both male and female, while a further 22 people that had been onboard are reportedly still missing. The average age of the passengers was 16, IOM said.
“The survivors told our colleagues on the beach that the smuggler pushed them to the sea, when he saw some ‘authority types’ near the coast,” Laurent de Boeck, the IOM Yemen Chief of Mission said in the statement. They added that they believed the smuggler had returned to Somalia to pick up more migrants.
“This is shocking and inhumane,” de Boeck said. “The suffering of migrants on this migration route is enormous.”
An estimated 55,000 people have left the Horn of Africa for Yemen since January 2017, according to the IOM, in the hopes of finding better economic opportunities in Gulf countries. About a third of those migrants are female, and more than half were under the age of 18 when they left their home countries, the IOM says.