Obock, Djibouti — Staff from the International Organization for Migration (IOM) today (05/10) assisted Djiboutian authorities as they attended to the grim task of recovering and burying eight drowning victims whose remains washed ashore after a lethal journey from Yemen over the weekend.
The victims—from a total of 34 mainly Ethiopian and Somali migrants seeking to return to Africa after attempting to find work in the Arabian Gulf—make 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 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.”
Mr. 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 twenty-five 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 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.
Said Stephanie Daviot, Chief of Mission, IOM Djibouti, “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 who 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. IOM is concerned there could be further drownings.”
The tragedy follows the arrival of some 2,678 migrants from Yemen into Djibouti since July, according to IOM data. Say others who have arrived here in recent weeks, most are trying to return to Ethiopia and other nations after having failed to reach the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia despite managing to leave Africa for Yemen.
Due to COVID-19 related border closures, and the extreme danger facing migrants in the Gulf state, many have given up on their hope of finding jobs and opportunities in the Kingdom.
IOM Djibouti has been providing emergency medical care, food, water, tents and counselling on COVID-19 awareness and prevention measures to those arriving in Obock. Moreover, IOM has assisted an estimated 1,239 migrants who already had been stranded in Djibouti for months.
Meanwhile, across Djibouti’s border in Ethiopia, IOM has been assisting returnees with food, water, clothing and other essentials they need for their journeys home.
In August, IOM launched a USD84M appeal - Regional Migrant Response Plan for the Horn of Africa and Yemen (RMRP) - to respond to the needs of migrants in the Horn of Africa and Yemen taking such journeys, and to help an estimated 14,000 migrants currently stranded in Yemen. Many want to go home and rely on smugglers to do so for lack of alternatives.
IOM is advocating for humanitarian access to those in need of help and is working with regional governments to help those who want to return home.
For more information, please contact Yvonne Ndege, IOM Regional Spokesperson for East and Horn of Africa in Nairobi, Tel: +254 797 735 977, Email: email@example.com
Or Olivia Headon, IOM Yemen, Tel: +251926379755, WhatsApp: +967730552233, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org