JOHANNESBURG - Thirty bodies have been found after some 130 migrants went missing off Djibouti when two boats capsized in rough waters, the U.N. migration agency said Wednesday.
Sixteen survivors were recovered, and the tiny East African nation’s coast guard continued a search and rescue operation after Tuesday’s accident, the U.N. said in a statement. Witnesses said large waves caused the overloaded boats to tip over about a half-hour after departing.
More than 130 African migrants were missing off Djibouti after two overloaded boats capsized in rough seas on Tuesday, the United Nations migration agency said.
The vessels were heading to Yemen, a gateway to Gulf countries where many migrants hope to find jobs and better lives, said Joel Millman, spokesman for the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
Alerted by local residents, a team of gendarmes found two survivors and the bodies of five migrants.
An 18-year-old survivor told the migration agency he had boarded one of the boats with another 130 people, including 16 women. There were no immediate details on the second boat.
Thousands of migrants from the turbulent Horn of Africa region set off every year from Djibouti to cross the Bab al-Mandab Strait for the Arabian Peninsula with hopes of finding work in rich Gulf countries.
The vast majority of the migrants are Ethiopian, young and male, the migration agency says.
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said on Tuesday five countries had come forward with offers to help end the stand-off over a rescue boat moored off Sicily with 47 migrants on board.
The Sea Watch 3, run by a German humanitarian group, rescued the migrants from a rubber boat off the Libyan coast more than a week ago but Italy, which has closed its ports to charity ships, has refused to allow them ashore to request asylum.
"I want to thank the friendly countries that have in the last few hours said they are willing to find a shared solution," Conte told reporters in the Cypriot capital
The crossing is dangerous, with smugglers in some cases forcing migrants overboard before reaching their destination. Other boats have been fired on as they approach Yemen, where fighting continues between pro-government forces backed by a Saudi-led coalition and Houthi rebels.
“This tragic event demonstrates the risks that vulnerable migrants face as they innocently search for better lives,” said the migration agency’s Djibouti chief of mission, Lalini Veerassamy.
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Europe is gearing up for EU parliament elections in May, a vote where the balance of power could shift decisively.
The agency’s Missing Migrants Project says at least 199 people have now drowned off the Djibouti coast near Obock, where the latest capsizing occurred, since 2014.
More than 700 other deaths have occurred further off shore on the route from the Horn of Africa to Yemen, according to the project’s data.
The route also sees a flow of migrants from Yemen toward the Horn of Africa as people flee war.