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At Least 30 Somalis, Ethiopians Drown Off Yemen Coast


An International Organization for Migration map shows the approximate location of the boat that capsized off the coast of Djibuti, carrying Yemeni and Ethiopian refugees. (IOM)

The U.N. refugee and migration agencies say the bodies of at least 30 Somalis and Ethiopians were found drowned this week off the Yemeni coast near Aden. They are believed to have been traveling in a smuggler's boat.

Survivors say the overcrowded boat was packed with 152 Somalis and Ethiopians heading for Djibouti. They tell aid workers the boat capsized amid reports of gunfire being used against the passengers.

International Organization for Migration spokesman Joel Millman says the ill-fated vessel is believed to have been operated by unscrupulous smugglers who probably turned their guns on the migrants while trying to extort more money from them.

He says refugees and migrants often turn to smugglers out of desperation to help them leave Yemen.

"People get stuck and cannot get evacuated," he said. "We know of cases where they have solicited what we guess we can only call irregular traffickers or irregular transporters, for want of a better word, smugglers to take them away from Yemen."

U.N. refugee spokesman William Spindler says it is not surprising that a prolonged conflict, such as Yemen, would expose vulnerable refugees and migrants to human rights violations, including trafficking and deportation.

He tells VOA the UNHCR has been running a year-long campaign warning people of the dangers before they go to Yemen.

"Yemen is one of the most dangerous places in the world.It is in the middle of a terrible conflict, on the verge of famine, with a cholera epidemic and so on," he noted. "And, yet refugees and migrants continue to arrive there."

The United Nations reports more than 87,000 migrants and refugees from the Horn of Africa risked their lives last year trying to reach Yemen by boat.

Aid agencies say the people are so poor they resort to desperate measures in hopes of making their way to the Emirates and finding work.