International aid workers have found the bodies of 60 migrants on the shores of southern Yemen who died trying to smuggle themselves into the country from Africa, the aid group said Monday.
Workers found the bodies from Oct. 31 to Nov. 2, said Medecins Sans Frontieres, also known as Doctors Without Borders. The migrants were the latest victims among the thousands of Africans who have attempted the perilous journey this year across the Gulf of Aden, which is also a hotbed for piracy.
"A lot of attention has been paid lately to tackling the issue of piracy in the waters off the Horn of Africa," said the head of MSF in Yemen, Francis Coteur, in a statement released Monday. "Unfortunately, little attention is paid to the drama of the refugees crossing the same waters in horrific conditions."
Aid workers spoke to migrants from two different groups who managed to survive the journey but described how their fellow passengers died and eventually washed up on the beach, the statement said.
After a harrowing two-day trip from the port city of Bosasso in Somalia, smugglers forced one group into the sea as they were approaching the shore because they spotted some lights that made them suspicious.
"Several people did not know how to swim and they drowned," the aid group quoted one migrant as saying.
A pregnant woman was severely wounded by the boat's propeller after she was forced overboard, said the statement.
The second group's boat capsized during the journey, killing at least 23 of the passengers, who were immediately buried by the others. The second group was made up of Somalis and Ethiopians, but it was unclear where they began their journey.
Dire economic conditions and violence in the Horn of Africa drive waves of migrants to Yemen. About 32,000 migrants have made the hazardous sea journey to Yemen this year — 22,000 of them Somalis, according to figures from the Yemeni government and the U.N. refugee agency.
Smugglers are known to cram dozens of men, women and children into small boats and often beat and abuse the migrants during the journey, which can take up to three days. To avoid Yemeni patrols, the smugglers often dump their passengers far from shore and force them to swim the rest of the way.
During the first half of September, some 165 bodies were found on the shore, the Yemeni government has said. In 2007, more than 1,400 were reported dead and missing, according to MSF.