Drowning and Missing: The Recurring Fate of African Migrants Off Yemen

Sheba Intelligence | 2024-06-11 07:18 PM UTC


At least 38 Africans died after their boat capsized off the coast of Yemen's Shabwah province, local officials said on Monday. Nearly 100 others are still missing.

Rescuers indicated that the vessel, carrying around 250 people, sank because of strong winds. Local authorities in Rudum, east of Aden, said that those on board were migrants, mainly from Ethiopia, who use Yemen as a transit point to reach Gulf states.

Hadi Al-Khurma, the director of Rudum district in Shabwah, said the boat drowned before it reached the shores. He added, "Fishermen and residents managed to rescue 78 of the migrants, and about 100 others who were with them on the same boat are missing."


In November last year, the Yemeni Coast Guard rescued 26 migrants of African nationalities after their boat sank in international waters off the coast of Mocha to the west of Yemen. At the time, 26 African migrants were rescued out of 75 people. Forty-nine people were reported missing.


Thousands of Africans risk traveling on small, crowded boats in the hope of reaching Yemen, which they use as a stepping stone to Gulf countries, particularly Saudi Arabia and Oman, where they can find job opportunities.


UN reports estimate that 97,000 migrants arrived in Yemen from the Horn of Africa in 2023. The African migrants keep heading to Yemen despite the civil war Yemen has been seeing and recent escalation in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden.

Those who arrive safely in Yemen are exposed to a number of violations. Sheba Intelligencerevealed in a previous report that African migrants in Yemen become vulnerable to harassment, exploitation, and gender-based violence violations. Besides, they are mobilized and recruited as fighters and logistical support providers by the parties to the Yemeni conflict.


In December 2022, Human Rights Watch documented a series of assaults against African migrants in Yemen, accusing Saudi Arabia and Ansar Allah (the Houthis) of being implicated in the killings, torture, arbitrary detention, and sexual assaults.

In 2021, a fire incident resulted in dozens of casualties of African refugees at a detention center in the Immigration and Passports Authority in Sana'a. The incident left 44 refugees dead and 180 wounded.

With the help of smugglers, the African migrants capitalize on the lax security in Yemen, which enables them to enter the country by boat. However, they discover that the situation in Yemen is more miserable than the situation in their countries.