DJIBOUTI CITY, 26 March 2021 – Additional details have emerged about human traffickers throwing dozens of migrants overboard reportedly to avoid their overloaded boat sinking.
Meftuha, a migrant from Ethiopia, has told reporters that she watched in horror, fear and “complete disbelief” as people smugglers off the coast of Djibouti forced dozens of African migrants off their boat to their death in the deep blue sea.
One of at least 200 migrants on board, Meftuha told the International Organization for Migration (IOM) the unseaworthy craft was carrying 46 children, mixed in with adults traveling from Djibouti to Yemen.
The boat had been sailing for about 30 minutes after departing last March 3 at 2:00 am from Oulebi on the Djiboutian coast when the smugglers started shouting and screaming at the passengers on board.
“When we got to the middle of the sea the smugglers started ordering us to get off the boat and said that, if we refused, they would throw us into the water. I saw six men die with my own eyes,” Meftuha testified.
“Those of us who survived stayed on shore to get the bodies out of the water. Some of us were waiting for more dead bodies to wash up. Some of us went to the local police to tell them what happened,” the Ethiopian migrant told IOM officials.
Other survivors confirmed this account and say at least 80 migrants were violently pushed into the water by the smugglers.
At least 20 migrants are now confirmed drowned.
Meftuha testified she knows of 25 migrants she was travelling with who died along the way, due to dehydration or starvation.
Every year, thousands of young African migrants travel from Djibouti (coming mainly Ethiopia and Somalia) to Yemen, hoping to cross into the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates in search of work opportunities.
Since January, at least 2,500 migrants have attempted to reach Djibouti, according to IOM.
The vast majority are targeted and exploited by people smugglers who promise to facilitate the trip for exorbitant fees.
In Yemen, as many as 14,500 African migrants are trapped in the country’s jails, facing violence, ill treatment and exploitation.
On 8 March, at least eight migrants, mainly from Ethiopia, died while more than 170 were injured in a fire at a migrant detention centre in the capital, Sana’a.
In August 2020, IOM launched an $84 million appeal for the Regional Migrant Response Plan for the Horn of Africa and Yemen (RMRP) to respond to the needs of migrants like Meftuha and the other survivors.