20 drown after smugglers throw migrants into sea off Djibouti

NAIROBI: At least 20 people drowned after smugglers threw dozens of migrants overboard during a crossing between Djibouti and Yemen, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said yesterday.

Survivors told the IOM that at least 200 migrants, including children, were packed aboard the vessel when it left Oulebi in Djibouti in the early hours of Wednesday for Yemen across the Gulf of Aden.

About 30 minutes into the voyage, the smugglers panicked about the number of people onboard and threw 80 into the sea before turning the vessel back toward land, said Ms Yvonne Ndege, IOM regional spokesman for the East and Horn of Africa.

"Survivors believe at least 20 people have been killed. There are still some unaccounted for. Five bodies washed up onshore," Ms Ndege told AFP.

The survivors are receiving medical treatment in the Djibouti port town of Obock, a major transit point for thousands of African migrants in the region trying to reach the Gulf.

There are fears the death toll could rise, with survivors unable to locate family they say were aboard, Ms Ndege said.

It is the third such incident in the Gulf of Aden in less than six months. Two similar incidents in October claimed the lives of at least 50 migrants, the IOM said.

"This tragedy is further proof that criminals continue to exploit people desperate to improve their lives for profit no matter the consequences," said IOM Djibouti Chief of Mission Stephanie Daviot.

The nationalities of those aboard the vessel are not yet known, with testimony still being collected from the survivors, the IOM said.Restrictions on travel due to the pandemic has sharply reduced the flow of migrants via this route. The IOM says roughly 138,000 people made the journey in 2019, compared with 37,500 last year. - AFP