The International Organization for Migration (IOM) has confirmed that at least eight Ethiopian migrants have died, and 12 others are missing off the Coast of Djibouti.
They died after being forced off the boat by smugglers, according to the report from the agency. The victims are from a total of 34, mainly Ethiopian and Somali, migrants seeking to return to Africa after attempting to find work in the Arabian Gulf. This makes even more tragic a recent wave of Africans arriving in Djibouti.
“It was at night and the smugglers turned off all the lights on the boat, claiming we were being followed by the coast guard, but they were lying,” 19-year-old survivor, Galgalou Haji Wacho from Oromo, Ethiopia, told IOM. “There was no coast guard. They started hitting us with sticks and iron bars.”
Haji Wacho said he was in the water for nearly two hours, struggling to make out the coastline ahead. “I could not see anything,” he recalled. “It was pitch black. I did not know whether I was dead or alive.”
He and 25 others, some of whom suffered injuries, today are receiving medical treatment at IOM’s Migrant Response Centre in Obock.
While thousands of African migrants remain stranded in Yemen, authorities fear some of those may be waiting for a chance to re-cross the dangerous waters many already braved to get to the Arabian Gulf just months ago. Thus, the prospect grows of more fatalities in the coming weeks and days.
Chief of Mission at IOM Djibouti, Stephanie Daviot said, “This tragedy is a wake up call. Migrants are arriving in Djibouti in large numbers from Yemen. Regional governments and the international community must come together to address a situation of dangerous journeys facing migrants in the region since the outbreak of COVID-19. Migrants are unable to move forward in their journey, and with no means to return home.”
She added, “Risking their lives, facing exploitation from smugglers, and in this instance, very tragically, death and injury, these migrants run a gauntlet that makes a mockery of respecting migrants’ human rights and dignity.”