At Least 20 Dead After Smugglers Force Migrants into the Sea Off Djibouti

Fishing boats such as this one abandoned outside Obock, Djibouti, are used to smuggle tens of thousands of migrants annually across the Gulf of Aden to Yemen where they continue their journey to Gulf countries in search of work. Photo: IOM/2018

Obock, Djibouti – At least 20 people have drowned after smugglers threw dozens of migrants overboard early Wednesday morning during their journey from Djibouti to Yemen, the third such incident on the Gulf of Aden in six months.

Survivors receiving medical treatment at the International Organization for Migration (IOM) Migrant Response Centre in Obock said at least 200 migrants, including children, were crowded aboard the vessel when it departed. Thirty minutes into the journey the smugglers forced roughly 80 people into the sea. Five bodies were recovered yesterday.

“We work closely with the authorities in Djibouti to assist migrants, but Wednesday’s tragedy is further proof that criminals continue to exploit people desperate to improve their lives for profit regardless of the consequences,” said IOM Djibouti Chief of Mission, Stephanie Daviot.

“Smugglers and human traffickers must be prosecuted for their crimes, and new migration pathways established to allow people to pursue work opportunities abroad in a safe, legal and dignified manner.”

Two similar incidents in October claimed the lives of at least 50 migrants.

Every year, tens of thousands of young African migrants from the region make the dangerous journey from countries like Somalia and Ethiopia to Djibouti, before boarding vessels to Yemen and traveling onwards to the Gulf nations in search of work.

COVID-19 mobility restrictions have drastically reduced travel; roughly 138,000 people made the journey in 2019, compared with 37,500 in 2020. In January 2021, over 2,500 migrants reached Yemen from Djibouti and the fear is that, as restrictions ease, more migrants are waiting to cross, raising the prospect of future tragedies.

In Yemen itself, thousands of migrants are believed to be stranded. Many are facing extreme danger, exploitation and abuse. IOM, in both Djibouti and Yemen, has been providing emergency medical care, food, water and counselling to stranded migrants.

In August 2020, IOM launched a USD 84M appeal – Regional Migrant Response Plan for the Horn of Africa and Yemen (RMRP) – to respond to the needs of migrants on the  Horn of Africa and Yemen, including Djibouti.  
For more information, please contact:

·       Yvonne Ndege, IOM Regional Spokesperson for East and Horn of Africa in Nairobi, Tel: +254 797 735 977, Email:   

·       Olivia Headon in IOM Yemen, Tel: +967730552233, Email: