Five people are dead and about 130 missing off the coast of Djibouti after two boats carrying migrants capsized, the UN migration agency said on Tuesday.
The incident occurred about 30 minutes after the overloaded boats set off in heavy seas from Godoria on the Horn of Africa nation’s northeast coastline, according to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).
“After being alerted by local residents, a team of gendarmerie gathered this afternoon near the reported site of the disaster and discovered two survivors as well as the remains of three women and two men,” IOM said in a statement.
One survivor estimated there were 130 people on his boat, but was not able to say the number of passengers on the other vessel.
“The coast guard was also alerted and launched search and rescue operations. Those operations are still underway with two patrol boats,” said the statement.
Located across the Bab el-Mandeb strait from war-torn Yemen and next to volatile Somalia and Ethiopia, Djibouti has in recent years become a transit point for migrants heading to find work on the Arabian Peninsula.
The region of Obock, from where the boat set off, is unusual in that it sees people passing in both directions: Boatloads of Yemeni refugees fleeing war cross vessels carrying African migrants seeking better opportunities.
The IOM runs a centre in Obock helping migrants seeking to flee the conflict in Yemen.
In 2017 some 2,900 people, mostly Somalis and Ethiopians, passed through from Yemen, a year that saw about 100,000 migrants head into the troubled country.
“The number of new arrivals arriving in Yemen has been continuously increasing since 2012, despite the deepened insecurity and violence following the war that erupted in March 2015. Arrivals peaked in 2016, when over 117,000 arrived in Yemen,” the IOM said in its 2018-2020 regional migration response plan.
This migration comes despite Yemen being home to one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises. UN officials say 80 percent of the population — 24 million people — are in need of aid and nearly 10 million are just one step away from famine.
IOM said that most of the journey migrants take to Yemen is by foot, walking across the scorching desert regions of eastern Ethiopia, Djibouti and northern Somalia. Once they arrive in Yemen they face torture, blackmail, sexual abuse or forced labour. The strategic sea crossing has repeatedly proven perilous.
Last year, at least 30 migrants from Somalia and Ethiopia believed to be headed for Djibouti drowned when their boat capsized off the coast of Yemen amid reports of gunfire being used against those on board.
In August 2017, dozens of migrants from Somalia and Ethiopia died after human traffickers forced them off two Yemen-bound boats and into the sea.