Hundreds of migrants forced from smugglers' boats in 'deliberate drownings'

PHOTO: IOM staff assist Somali and Ethiopian migrants, who were reportedly forced into the sea by smugglers, on a beach in Shabwa, Yemen, Aug. 10, 2017.PlayUN Migration Agency(IOM)/EPA
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Dozens of migrants are feared dead after as many as 300 were forced from smugglers' boats into the waters off Yemen's coast in the past two days.

Approximately 50 migrants drowned off the coast yesterday and another 50 are feared dead today after the smugglers forced them into the water in the Arabian sea off the coast of central Yemen, United Nations officials said.

Survivors gathered amid a grisly scene as 29 bodies from Wednesday's incident were discovered buried in shallow graves on the Yemeni shoreline today.

The International Organization for Migration, the United Nations' migration agency, condemned the smugglers' acts and called the deaths "deliberate drownings."

"There is something fundamentally wrong in this world if countless numbers of children can be deliberately and ruthlessly drowned in the ocean," IOM director General William L. Swing said in a statement.

Many of the migrants are believed to be minors from Somalia and Ethiopia trying to reach countries in the Gulf through Yemen. The approximate average age of the passengers on the boats was 16, the 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," said Laurent de Boeck, the IOM Yemen chief of Mission. "They also told us that the smuggler has already returned to Somalia to continue his business and pick up more migrants to bring to Yemen on the same route."

The IOM blames human smugglers who ply a brutal trade that often includes extorting migrants' families of large sums of money, as well as the rape and torture of migrants they are paid to transport from Africa to destinations in the Middle East and Europe in overcrowded, often dangerous vessels.