United Nations chief 'heartbroken' by forced drownings of scores of African migrants

At least 56 individuals have drowned over the past 24 hours, and dozens remain missing, after human traffickers forced 300 African migrants off two Yemen-bound boats and into the sea.

International Organization for Migration staffers found the shallow graves of 29 of the migrants on a beach in Shabwa during a routine patrol, the agency's statement said. "Smugglers are active in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, offering fake promises to vulnerable migrants", IOM said.

The route, across the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea, takes them through Yemen, one of the world's most unsafe war zones, where airstrikes and mortar shelling have become routine, and a cholera outbreak has affected more than 400,000 people.

The average age of the people headed to Yemen on Wednesday was 16.

"They were shocked, exhausted and quite desperate", Laurent de Boeck, the IOM Yemen Chief of Mission, told Reuters in an interview in Brussels.

"They also told us that the smuggler already has returned to Somalia to continue his business and pick up more migrants to bring to Yemen on the same route".

Already this year, 55,000 migrants have taken the hazardous route from the Horn of Africa to Yemen to seek possible opportunities offered in the Gulf, IOM said.

"The difficulty is also that this is a criminal network which is organised not only in Yemen but also in Somalia, in Djibouti as well as Ethiopia", he added. They didn't succeed, they went back home, but the parents didn't agree with the fact that they didn't succeed so they send them back.

A Guterres spokesman said Thursday the United Nations chief stresses that the worldwide community must make it a priority to prevent such crises that cause the mass movement of people and exposes them to danger.

In Ethiopia, people expressed outrage on social media over the drownings. "I am making a promise to them that IOM will not forget them, and will continue to fight to protect the rights and dignity of future generations of migrants", concluded DG Swing.

The conflict itself is a deadly risk. A boat carrying Somali migrants was attacked in March, killing 42.

Vanessa Coleman