At least 34 people being smuggled from Somalia across the Gulf of Aden drowned after being forced overboard by smugglers in deep waters off the coast of Yemen, the United Nations refugee agency said on Tuesday.
Citing reports by survivors and Yemeni officials, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said the incident occurred early Friday when three smuggling boats approached the Yemeni coast near Bir Ali following a two-day voyage from the Bosaso region of
"Witnesses and survivors said two of the boats had begun dropping their passengers off near shore when they reportedly came under fire from Yemeni authorities and moved back out to sea.
Twenty-two people later forced into the deeper water drowned and were buried on the beach," it said.
According to the UN agency, a third boat which approached the coast of Yemen on Friday afternoon forced its passengers overboard far from shore, causing drowning of 12 people.
More than 1,000 Somalis have braved the perilous exodus across the Gulf of Aden in the past month alone.
This incident follows a tragedy in February, in which at least 107 bodies were found along a remote stretch of the Yemen coastline after a people-smuggling boat capsized in one of the deadliest single incidents in a perilous voyage that has brought some 30,000 migrants from the war-torn Somalia since January last year.
Over 500 people died during that period and at least 300 remain missing.
"Passengers aboard the third boat said they were beaten throughout the voyage from Somalia and that at least two Ethiopian men unable to endure the mistreatment jumped overboard," the UNHCR said.
It said the three boats that arrived Friday carried 365 people, including 234 Ethiopians and 131 Somalis while three more boats carrying 270 Somalis and Ethiopians reached ashore safely on Sunday near Bir Ali.
Since the beginning of this year, more than 5,600 people have landed on the Yemeni coast and at least 200 people have died. Many remain missing.