On Thursday, Somali refugees were heading to the coast of Yemen, due to the brutal civil war, when an attack perpetrated by a helicopter gunship erupted, killing 42 refugees and injuring dozens.
The boat carrying the refugees was traveling to Sudan, in which it had set sail overnight. Official coastguard, Mohamed al-Alay, told Reuters that the boat carrying the refugees was also carrying official UN documents when an Apache helicopter opened fire near the Bab-el-Mandeb strait. After the attack, a senior official with the UN’s migration agency confirmed the death total of 42 once the bodies had been discovered.
However, the remaining survivors of the attack gave contradictory information about the perpetrator of the attack. According to Mohammed Abdiker, Emergencies director at the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) in Geneva, said the message being conveyed by the survivors makes it unclear about whether the attack came from a military vessel or an attack helicopter that had taken off from the vessel. Because of this, it is currently not known who carried out the attack, but Saudi-led armed forces such as the United Arab Emirates have partaken in deploying Apache helicopters, which is an aspect of their air campaign in support of President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi.
Abdiker stated that responsible fighters should have ensured who was present on the boat “before firing on it” and that the attack was “totally unacceptable.”
The IOM estimated that there were 140 passengers on board of the boat at the time of the attack. The remaining survivors, 75 men, and 15 women were taken to detention centers.
A Yemeni people trafficker who was one of the survivors told the Associated Press that his vessel was struck by fire from a helicopter gunship. Al-hassan Ghaleb Mohammed stated that the boat was about 30 miles off of its destination, the shore of Yemen, when it was attacked. He added that once the conflict erupted, refugees began to frantically panic. The refugees eventually managed to hold up flashlights to reveal to the helicopter that they were refugees, in which the helicopter stopped firing, but only after more than 40 Somali innocents were killed.
Shabia Mantoo, UNHCR spokeswomen in Yemen told Reuters, “We are distressed by this incident and understand that refugees were traveling in a vessel off the coast of Hudaydag, which was reportedly impacted during the course of hostilities.”
Mantoo said that the brutal conflict in Yemen is forcing refugees and asylum seekers to travel to the North. The civil war in Yemen is being led by a Saudi coalition, which is backed by the UK and US. They are responsible for the mass destruction and displacement of civilians, which has created the current humanitarian crisis occurring in Yemen, as well as the famine risks.
Currently, more than 7.3 million people in Yemen are in need of urgent food assistance and due to increasing conflict, more than 10,000 people in Yemen have been killed. Yemen is currently hosting over 255,000 Somali refugees.
The refugees who were killed in the attack were fleeing the conflict occurring in Somalia, in which the country is also facing the possibility of famine. Over 700,000 people in Somalia rely on humanitarian assistance as a means of survival. More than one million Somali’s have been forced out of their country and more than a million also remain internally displaced.