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Migrant boat capsizes off Djibouti leaving 21 dead

Africa

 

 Night rescue of a boat with forty-five migrants. [AFP]

At least 21 people perished in a new migrant boat disaster off the coast of Djibouti, the UN's migration agency said Tuesday.

It was the second fatal maritime accident in two weeks off the Horn of Africa nation, which lies on the perilous so-called Eastern Migration Route from Africa to the Middle East.

Another vessel carrying mainly Ethiopian migrants sank in the same area on April 8, claiming the lives of several dozen people.

The International Organization for Migration's chief of mission in Djibouti, Tanja Pacifico, told AFP in Nairobi that 21 bodies had been recovered, while 23 people were still missing.

Another 33 people survived the disaster, she said late Tuesday.

"Tragedy as boat capsizes off Djibouti coast with 77 migrants on board including children," the IOM had said in an earlier post on X, giving a toll of at least 16 dead and 28 missing.

It said the Djibouti IOM branch was "supporting local authorities with search and rescue effort".

Yvonne Ndege, a spokeswoman for the agency, told AFP the fatalities included children and a baby, without offering further details.

Ethiopia's ambassador to Djibouti, Berhanu Tsegaye, said on X that the vessel was carrying Ethiopian migrants from Yemen when it went down on Monday night off Godoria in northeastern Djibouti.

He said 33 people, including one woman, survived.

Berhanu expressed his "deep sorrow... over the succession of horrific disasters", adding: "I reiterate that legal measures should be taken against illegal human smugglers who put the lives of our citizens at risk."

Another vessel carrying more than 60 people sank off the coast of Godoria on April 8, according to the IOM and the Ethiopian embassy in Djibouti.

The IOM said at the time that the bodies of 38 migrants, including children, were recovered, while another six people were missing.

The Ethiopian embassy had said the boat was carrying Ethiopian migrants from Djibouti to war-torn Yemen.

‘Life-threatening'

Each year, many tens of thousands of African migrants brave the "Eastern Route" across the Red Sea and through Yemen to try to reach oil-rich Saudi Arabia, escaping conflict or natural disaster, or seeking better economic opportunities.

"On their journeys, many face life-threatening dangers including starvation, health risks and exploitation -– at the hands of human traffickers and other criminals," the IOM said in February.

In November, a shipwreck off the shores of Yemen left 64 migrants missing, presumed dead at sea, the agency said.

Ndege said the IOM's data from 2023 showed that "the number of people trying to cross is on the rise".

According to the agency, Ethiopians make up 79 percent of the roughly 100,000 migrants who arrived in Yemen last year from Djibouti or Somalia, the remainder being Somalis.

Africa's second most populous country, Ethiopia is blighted by various conflicts and several regions have suffered from severe drought in recent years.

More than 15 percent of its 120 million inhabitants depend on food aid.

In February, the IOM said that according to its Missing Migrants Project at least 698 people, including women and children, had died crossing the Gulf of Aden from Djibouti to Yemen last year.

In August, Human Rights Watch accused Saudi border guards of killing "at least hundreds" of Ethiopians trying to cross into the Gulf kingdom from Yemen between March 2022 and June 2023, using explosive weapons in some cases.

Riyadh dismissed the group's findings as "unfounded and not based on reliable sources".

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