Second mass drowning: UN migration agency warns of dangers of African migration to Yemen

The second 'deliberate drowning' incident in two days has prompted fresh warnings about migration from the Horn of Africa into war-torn Yemen.

The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) has told SBS World News of the numerous dangers faced by African migrants travelling to war-torn Yemen, after the "deliberate drowning" of migrants off the country's coast. 

SBS World News spoke to Mr de Boeck shortly before the IOM reported 180 Ethiopian and Somali migrants were forced into the sea, with 55 presumed dead: the second incident in two days.

A day earlier, as many as 50 migrants, predominately teenagers from Somalia and Ethiopia, died after a people smuggler allegedly forced them off the boat after seeing authorities and panicking.

"Our patrolling team on the beach met with 27 migrants, who looked completely exhausted and desperate," the IOM's Chief of Mission in Yemen, Laurent de Boeck, said.

"When they (IOM staff) met them they understood they were basically survivors of a boat which dropped them in the sea. They also showed them 29 bodies, which they buried."

Migrant agency finds survivors off Yemen coast
Migrant agency finds survivors off Yemen coast

Mr de Boeck said the smuggler had seen a military boat and was scared he would be arrested.

After allegedly forcing people off the boat, it's believed it turned around and returned to Somalia.

While these are the first incidents of their kind, Mr de Boeck said there were many other dangers facing the thousands of young migrants arriving by boat to Yemen every month.

"When they arrive, they either disappear directly or are taken by smugglers again, who unfortunately take them to places where they kidnap them," said Mr de Boeck.

"To some extent they torture and rape them, unfortunately, until the family pays additional fees to have them freed and continue their journey.

"That's why we have patrolling teams at the beach. We try to rescue them and bring them to our shelter where we provide them with support and we try to advise them not to continue the journey because they're entering into a country in war.

"They have a choice, of course, and not all decide to return back home."

Those fleeing Somalia and Ethiopia, are hoping to traverse Yemen to oil-rich Gulf countries.

"Generally, they look at the Arab peninsula as a potential employment opportunity, "said Mr de Boeck.

"They have some family, or others, who've succeeded and reported back home that it's easy to find a job. That's very attractive for them, and then their families push them out and ask them to do the same - to find a job and bring remittance back home."

Already this year, 55,000 migrants from the Horn of Africa have taken the hazardous route, according to the IOM.

Mr de Boeck says he believes the numbers are going up, due to to the collapse of law enforcement agencies.

"That doesn't prevent such irregular action from happening, and smugglers or traffickers are taking advantage of the absence of state."

He says the large majority of migrants are "absolutely unaware" they are entering a country in the grip of war.

"They are basically requested from the family to leave and the smugglers are promoting how easy it is to cross and enter the country.

"So they are generally very astonished when we tell them they have entered a war, which is a reason why they don't really believe us and they don't follow advice to go back home."

Those who decide to continue with their journey through Yemen often turn back later, or simply disappear.

"We find them later, when they have tried to cross into a war zone, with fights and airstrikes, and then they decide to return."

"But the majority of them disappear. We don't really know where they went and where they are."