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Smugglers threw scores of people into the sea en route to Yemen, UN says

International Organisation of Migration says five bodies have been retrieved from Djibouti's Red Sea coast so far
Thousands risk their lives crossing the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea to reach Yemen to cross into Saudi Arabia for work. Wrecked ship on a beach in Obock in 2015 (AFP)

Smugglers threw scores of people into the Red Sea as they headed to Yemen in the hope of crossing into Saudi Arabia to find work, UN officials have said. 

The International Organisation of Migration (IOM) said the boat carrying 200 people had left Djibouti in the early hours of Thursday morning.

But half an hour after the boat set off from the east coast of Africa, smugglers began throwing people off the ship near the coastal town of Obock in Djibouti. 

Yvonne Ndege, a spokeswoman for the IOM, said smugglers threw at least 80 people off the boat after it became overloaded. 

'Smugglers started shouting there were too many onboard and began throwing people overboard'

- Yvonne Ndege, IOM spokeswoman

"The boat left Oulebi in Djibouti with 200 migrants onboard at 2 AM local time heading to Yemen," Ndege told Middle East Eye. 

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"Smugglers started shouting there were too many onboard and began throwing people overboard." 

Ndege said minors were on board the boat and she fears that at least 20 people may have died.

She added that rescuers had retrieved five bodies, with survivors being treated by the IOM in Djibouti. 

Thousands of people, mainly Ethiopians and Somalis, have crossed the Red Sea from East Africa to find work in Saudi Arabia. 

Last October, two similar incidents took place, with smugglers also throwing people from boats attempting to cross over to Yemen.

The pandemic has left many heading for Saudi Arabia stranded in Yemen, forcing some to pay smugglers all over again to return.

Tens of thousands of people who managed to return to their countries of origin across the Horn of Africa have received IOM's assistance in government-operated Covid-19 quarantine facilities in countries including Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti. Among these are more than 2,000 children.

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Last March, Amnesty International revealed that Houthi officials in Yemen had forced thousands of Ethiopian workers and their families to cross the border into Saudi Arabia. 

At the time, thousands of Ethiopians worked in northern Yemen, earning money to seek travel and work in Saudi Arabia. But when the Covid-19 pandemic began to worsen, Houthi officials ejected the Ethiopian workers and sent them to the Saudi border. 

Once they crossed the border, the Ethiopians were apprehended by Saudi security officials, who confiscated their belongings and, in some cases, beat them. 

Detainees who spoke to Amnesty said they were chained together in pairs and forced to use their cell floors as toilets. 

Among the detained were pregnant women and babies, with three detainees telling Amnesty they saw children who had died. 

Most of the detainees were sent to the Jizan central prison, while the IOM estimates 2,000 Ethiopians remain in Yemen.

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