London – At least 40 people including women and children were killed aboard a boat carrying Somali refugees in the Red Sea off war-torn Yemen, officials said on Friday.
The United Nations refugee agency UNHCR said 140 passengers were believed to have been aboard the vessel. The refugees were hit by light weapons fire in waters off rebel-held Hodeida, but the boat managed to dock in the city’s port, an official there said. It was not immediately clear who was behind the attack.
Despite a war that has cost more than 7,000 lives since March 2015 and brought the country to the brink of famine, Yemen continues to attract people fleeing the horn of Africa. The UNHCR says that Yemen is hosting more than 255,000 Somali refugees.
Several refugee camps in southern Yemen host Somali refugees, although not in the Hodeida area. The UNHCR said that as conditions worsen in Yemen, refugees are starting to use areas further to the north as a transit route. It called on all sides in Yemen’s war to protect civilians.
The International Organization for Migration, which has operations in Yemen, said 42 bodies had been recovered.
The port official said dozens of Somalis who survived the attack, as well as three Yemeni traffickers, had been taken to the city’s prison. More than 30 wounded were reported to have been taken to hospital.
The attack drew condemnation from UN agencies and the International Committee for the Red Cross, with the ICRC also demanding an immediate investigation.
“UNHCR is appalled by this tragic incident, the latest in which civilians continue to disproportionately bear the brunt of conflict in Yemen,” it said.
Seven fishermen were also killed off Hodeida by gunfire from an unidentified source, while a further seven were killed in a car near Mokha, hospital workers said.
The UN’s humanitarian chief Stephen O’Brien has called Yemen “the largest humanitarian crisis in the world”, with two-thirds of the population in need of aid.
On Friday, an anti-government missiles launched by Houthis attack killed at least 26 members of the pro-government forces in a camp east of the capital Sanaa, officials at a hospital in Marib town said.