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Dozens of people 'drowned deliberately' off Yemen, says UN

International Organisation for Migration says smuggler forced 120 young refugees into sea
Undocumented African immigrants sit in southern port city of Aden last year before being deported to Somalia (AFP)

Up to 50 teenage Somali and Ethiopian migrants were "deliberately drowned" early on Wednesday by a smuggler who forced 120 passengers into the sea off Yemen's coast, the UN-partnered International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said.

They were all quite young, the average age was around 16

Olivia Headon, Spokeswoman, International Organisation for Migration

"The survivors told our colleagues on the beach that the smuggler pushed them to the sea when he saw some 'authority types' near the coast," Laurent de Boeck, the IOM Yemen mission chief, said in a statement.

"They also told us that the smuggler has already returned to Somalia to continue his business and pick up more migrants to bring to Yemen on the same route," he said.

De Boeck added that the travel to Yemen is particularly rough this time year because of the Indian Ocean’s strong waves.

“Too many young people pay smugglers with the false hope of a better future,” he said.

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IOM staff found the bodies of 29 African migrants buried in shallow graves on the beach in Yemen's southern province of Shabwa along the Gulf of Aden, while another 22 were missing, according to survivors.

"They were all quite young, the average age was around 16," IOM spokeswoman Olivia Headon said.

IOM officials spoke with 27 survivors who reported that a further 42 people had survived, but had already left the beach, she said.

The migrants, who included some young women, had headed to war-torn Yemen in order to seek opportunities in Gulf countries. According to IOM figures, 55,000 African asylum seekers have travelled from Somalia to Yemen since the start of this year.

Migrant monitoring agencies claim that 111,5000 asylum seekers arrived in Yemen from Africa last year.