31 Somali refugees killed, 25 injured in Yemen airstrike

31 Somali refugees killed, 25 injured in Yemen airstrike

The victims were carrying UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) papers, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

A total of 77 survivors were pulled out of the water and taken to a detention center in nearby Hodeida, according to IOM’s Yemen chief of mission Laurent De Boeck.

De Boeck said the agency believes everyone on board were refugees, though it was not immediately clear where they came from in Somalia.

He went on to say the IOM is in contact with the hospital, clinics, and detention center in order to provide medical care to the survivors.

Many of the 25 people wounded lost arms and legs in the strike, the Yemeni medical official told AP on condition of anonymity.

The medical official said the bodies of the dead were being retrieved from the sea and taken to the morgue of a hospital in al-Thawra. He said that only 14 bodies had arrived so far, noting that women were among the dead.

“Our confirmation is that there are dozens of deaths and many dozens of survivors brought to hospitals,” International Organization for Migration (IOM) spokesman Joel Millman told AP in Geneva.

The UNHCR said in a tweet that it was “appalled by this tragic incident, the latest in which civilians continue to disproportionately bear the brunt of conflict in Yemen.”

UNHCR is deeply distressed by civilian casualties reported from an incident off Hudaydah in which a number of refugees were killed + injured

UNHCR is appalled by this tragic incident, the latest in which civilians continue to disproportionately bear the brunt of conflict in Yemen

Yemeni coastguard official Mohamed al-Alay said the refugees were traveling from Yemen to Sudan when they were attacked by an Apache helicopter.

A Yemeni people trafficker who survived the attack also told AP that the boat had been hit by fire from a helicopter gunship.

He said that panic erupted among the refugees when the helicopter opened fire. The asylum-seekers were then able to hold up flashlights to show the aircraft that they were migrants. He said the helicopter then stopped firing, but only after it had killed the victims, the Guardian reported.

The Friday strike took place off the coast of Hodeida province, close to Bab al-Mandab Strait, the rebel-run SABA news agency reported. It did not say who was behind the strike.

Meanwhile, Millman said he was unable to confirm news reports that an Apache helicopter gunship was responsible for the attack.

African migrants often head to Yemen, as it is a transit point to Saudi Arabia, where they seek jobs and a better life.

Hodeida province has been under heavy airstrikes for the past two years, since the Saudi-led coalition joined the country’s civil war to stop Houthi advances in Yemen in March 2015.

Armed by the US and UK, the coalition is allied with Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who fled to Saudi Arabia when the Houthis took power. Hadi’s administration continues to be Yemen’s internationally recognised government.

The coalition has long been accused of civilian casualties, a claim which it has adamantly denied.

However, October figures from the UN Office of the High Commission for Human Rights (OHCHR) state that the conflict has claimed the lives of at least 4,125 civilians and left at least 7,207 wounded, with the majority of casualties caused by coalition airstrikes.

In January, a senior UN official said it is estimated that the death toll in the conflict has surpassed 10,000 people.

A September 2016 report by the Yemen Data Project concluded that one-third of Saudi airstrikes hit hospitals, schools, and other civilian targets – figures which Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir told the Guardian were “vastly exaggerated.” He went on to blame Houthi fighters for turning civilian buildings into “command control centers” and “weapons depots.”

Meanwhile, Amnesty International stated earlier this week that Washington’s arming of the coalition could implicate the US in war crimes and result in even more civilian deaths.

Amnesty USA executive director Margaret Huang warned that it would be like “throwing gasoline on a house fire and locking the door on [the] way out” if Washington approves arms deals while simultaneously barring Yemenis from entering the United States, referring to Trump’s proposed travel ban, which would ban citizens from six countries, including Yemen.

“The US should not continue to arm governments that violate international human rights and humanitarian law and simultaneously shut its doors to those fleeing the violence it escalates,” Huang said.

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FILE PHOTO: A man walks past a destroyed building, in Yemen's southwestern city of Taiz. ©Anees Mahyoub

FILE PHOTO © Mohamed Al-Sayaghi / Reuters
Women sit with their children at a malnutrition intensive care unit at a hospital in the Red Sea port city of Hodaida, Yemen. © Abduljabbar Zeyad
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