At the beginning of March 2021, around 80 migrants coming from the Horn of Africa to the Arabian Peninsula were thrown into the sea by their smugglers. It is believed that at least 20 of them are dead. Most of them were coming from Djibouti, a tiny country with less than a million people located between Ethiopia, Somalia, and Eritrea. The other victims were coming from Ethiopia and Somalia. The distance between Djibouti and Yemen, the closest country from Djibouti to the Arabian Peninsula, is only 29km (18 miles), making it the prime crossing location for migrants searching for a better life.
Those who survived claim that the smugglers put around 200 migrants on the boat, including women and children. About a half an hour after leaving the African shore, the smugglers began shouting that the boat was too full and decided to throw about 80 of them into the Red Sea, said Yvonne Ndege, Regional spokesperson for International Organization for Migration (IOM). Those who survived were treated at the IOM center in Djibouti, said Mohammed Abdiker, East and Horn of Africa regional director for IOM. Abdiker also stated that this was at least the third such tragedy in less than six months with a minimum of 70 people losing their lives during this route. The real number, however, is expected to be much higher.
The route they chose is not surprising or shocking, noted Abdiker, as hundreds of thousands of young African migrants try to cross the Red Sea every year in an attempt to look for jobs in rich Gulf countries. Their first stop is war-torn Yemen, from which they try to continue to other countries, mainly Saudi Arabia, but also Qatar, Oman, United Arab Emirates, or Bahrain. Many, however, get stuck in dangerous and extremely poor Yemen where they often face detention centers or are forced to come back home. A combination of factors, such as unemployment, economic crisis, climatic catastrophes like drought, or human rights abuses is the driving force behind migrants’ decisions to leave their homeland and search for a better life elsewhere. On the other hand, the Gulf countries are somewhat ideal destinations because of their availability of employment. In the current COVID-19 situation, the prospects of finding work and getting at least minimum wage are really low. For instance, Hassan from Somalia works in Yemen as a car washer. With the current restrictions, the movement of cars is limited, which means he might be out of a job soon. Migrants in Yemen do not have any state or charity support, which is why they are all desperately trying to reach Saudi or other Arab Gulf countries.
Most of the migrants travel without documents, therefore they have no legal status upon arrival, which is why they often do not have a choice and have to rely on services of smugglers and traffic networks. These traffickers often use violence and threats to ask for ransom money from migrants’ families or friends. The crossing of the sea sometimes takes even a whole day, with people crammed in small boats without any access to water or food.