Migrant Boats Sink Off Djibouti Coast, Killing Dozens

The Djibouti Coast Guard approaches a migrant boat. ( HOA )

The Djibouti Coast Guard approaches a migrant boat. (HOA)

Two migrant boats sank off the northeastern coast of Djibouti on January 30. The recorded death toll was 52. The two boats were primarily carrying Somali and Ethiopian migrants on their way to Yemen in hopes of better opportunities. Unfortunately, war-torn Yemen poses similar problems for both the Yemeni people and incoming refugees.

The boats sank 30 minutes after departing from Godoria, Djibouti, according to Al Jazeera. Djibouti has long been a major transit point for African migrants looking for safety and better opportunities on the Arabian Peninsula. More recently, though, Djibouti has become a two-way passage point. Due to the bloody civil war and humanitarian crisis in Yemen, boats of Yemeni refugees are now also traveling to Africa.

Both Somalia and Ethiopia are struggling with internal conflicts and humanitarian crises, resulting in high levels of displacement. According to Relief Web, there are 3.46 million total Somali refugees, mainly concentrated in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Yemen. Euronews reports that there are also approximately three million internally displaced Ethiopians, as well as many seeking refuge in foreign countries.

Neighboring each other in the Horn of Africa, Somalia and Ethiopia face a humanitarian crisis. This crisis is largely due to famine and the shortage of clean drinking water following the severe droughts in both countries from 2016 to 2017, according to USAID statistics. These already devastating conditions are exacerbated by violent internal conflicts in both countries. Recent ethnic conflicts in Ethiopia have forced the displacement of hundreds of thousands. Somalia has been considered a weak state for decades and shows no signs of unifying under a single political leader.

Somalia has experienced instability and violence since the outbreak of civil war in 1991. Though there is presently a fragile United Nations backed national government, internal conflict has persisted. Al-Shabab, the Islamist militant group that emerged in Somalia in 2006, has caused chaos in the region for years. The group’s actions include the deadliest bombing ever to take place in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, which killed at least 500 people in 2017.

Meanwhile, Yemen, the destination for millions of Somali, Ethiopian, and Djiboutian migrants, is embroiled in what many are calling one of the worst humanitarian crises in history. The civil war between the Houthi rebels and the supporters of Yemen’s official national government has entered its fourth year. The UN estimates that nearly 80 percent of the Yemeni population, about 24 million people, are in need of aid and protection. Civilian casualties have been high, and famine is widespread. At least three million Yemeni people have been internally displaced or sought refuge outside the country in the past four years.

The International Organization for Migration’s chief of mission in Djibouti, Lalini Veerassamy, said, “This tragic event demonstrates the risks that vulnerable migrants face as they innocently search for better lives.”