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Smugglers drown at least 50 refugees to avoid capture

OVER 50 refugees are believed to have drowned yesterday after being forced into the sea by smugglers who feared capture, the United Nations migration body said.

Only five bodies have been recovered, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said, but 50 others are unaccounted for after 180 people were forced overboard near the coast of Yemen.

The mass drowning — with many of the mostly Somali and Ethiopian people on board already malnourished and weak when they entered the water — is the second in two days. Fifty African teenagers drowned on Wednesday when a 120-strong boatload were dumped.

The first outrage was assumed to be an act of brutality by panicked people-smugglers who had spotted coastguard or naval vessels which might apprehend them, but the repeat killing could indicate the start of a murderous new trend, IOM spokeswoman Olivia Headon told the Reuters news agency.

“Smugglers know the situation is dangerous for them and they could be shot at, so they drop them near the shore and turn around and get more,” she said.

Thousands of Yemenis have been killed in a relentless Saudi bombing campaign aimed at overthrowing the country’s Houthi authorities and reinstating former president Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who was toppled in an armed uprising.

Even so, thousands of refugees from war-torn African countries such as Somalia see Yemen as a gateway to an escape to the Gulf states or Europe. The IOM estimates that 55,000 have tried to make the journey this year.

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