UN says 30 African migrants drowned off Yemen's coast

CAIRO — A boat that capsized off Yemen's coast earlier this week killed at least 30 African migrants and refugees, the U.N. said on Friday, reiterating warnings of the risks involved with travelling to the war-torn country.

The overcrowded boat, carrying some 152 people, was heading from the al-Buraiqa coast near the Yemeni city of Aden toward Djibouti, the U.N. migration agency said. Of the total, 101 passengers were Ethiopians and the rest were Somalis.

The International Organization for Migration said the vessel is believed to have been operated by "unscrupulous smugglers" who tried "to extort more money" from the migrants. Survivors reported gunfire as the boat capsized.

Yemen has been embroiled in a civil war pitting a Saudi-led coalition backing an internationally recognized government against Iran-backed Shiite rebels since March 2015. Despite the fighting, African migrants and refugees continue to arrive at the war-torn country, where there is no central authority to prevent them from travelling onward to reach oil-rich Gulf countries in hopes of finding jobs and better living conditions.

IOM figures show that some 87,000 people sought to reach Yemen from the Horn of Africa by boat in 2017. U.N. agencies have attempted to discourage migrants from embarking on the perilous trip by holding regional awareness campaign in several countries, including Ethiopia and Somalia, to warn people of its dangers.

"Yemen is one of the most dangerous places in the world, it's in the middle of a terrible conflict, on the verge of famine, with a cholera epidemic, and so on, and yet refugees and migrants continue to arrive," UNHCR's spokesman William Spindler said.

The U.N. agencies blamed the prolonged Yemeni conflict for subjecting refugees and migrants to the risk of human rights violations, including arbitrary arrest, detention, trafficking and deportation.

The near three-year stalemated war in Yemen has damaged its infrastructure, crippled the health system and pushed the Arab world's poorest country to the brink of famine. The impoverished country is also grappling with a cholera epidemic that has killed more than 2,000 people since April and a diphtheria outbreak that is believed to have infected over 700 people since August 2017.

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