By Alex Dombrowski
On March 17, a helicopter opened fire on a boat carrying Somali refugees off the coast of Yemen, killing 42 of 145 passengers. The helicopter, allegedly belonging to a Saudi-led coalition fighting Yemeni rebels, attacked the Somali refugees in the middle of the night, only stopping when the refugees used flashlights to prove they were not a threat.
Al Jazeera reports that though it is still unclear who is responsible for the attacks, the helicopter is thought to be a part of a Saudi-led coalition against the Houthi rebels who have seized control of Yemen. The coalition is comprised of loyalists to the deposed government of Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi who have taken military action to attempt to regain control of Yemen from the Iran-backed Houthi rebels. The Guardian reports that while a coalition spokesperson denied responsibility for the attack, there had been increases in air raids of ships believed to be delivering supplies to the rebels controlling the capital of Sana’a.
The boat was attacked near the Bab al-Mandeb Strait, a strategic trade route that connects the Red Sea to the Indian Ocean, allowing the flow of oil to developed countries such as the U.S. The crucial strait has four million barrels of oil shipped through it daily, rendering it important for both sides to control and protect. The strategic importance of the strait has led to an increased coalition security presence there, as they attempt to cut off the flow of supplies to the Houthi rebels. Over the past year, there has been an increase in the vessels targeted in the strait, as two U.S. ships have come under fire.
With civil war raging in Yemen, refugees continue to flee from one war-torn country to another as their safety in each country comes into question. Many of the Somali refugees fleeing Yemen have already escaped political turmoil in their native country, but the escalating humanitarian crisis in Yemen force the Somalis to seek once again refuge in another country.
Mohammed Abdiker, director of the International Organization for Migration, characterized the attack as “totally unacceptable.” According to The Guardian, Abdiker blamed the armed combatants for not checking who the passengers of the ship were “before firing on it.”
The port official in charge of Al Hudaydah, Dawood Fadal, told the New York Times that attacks upon civilians have grown more frequent over the past weeks, pointing out that the city’s small hospital has quickly become overrun due to increased numbers of victims.
It is unclear whether the civil war in Yemen will conclude in the near future, but the conditions of war restricting migration out of the war-torn countries of the area create a dangerous atmosphere for refugees of all nationalities looking to find safety from the conflict.