Thirty-one Somali refugees were killed off the coast of Yemen late on Thursday when a helicopter reportedly attacked the boat they were travelling in.
Coastguard Mohamed al-Alay said the refugees, carrying official UN refugee agency (UNHCR) documents, were travelling from Yemen to Sudan when they were attacked by an Apache helicopter near the Bab el-Mandeb strait.
As international organisations confirmed an attack, the head of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) in Sana’a, Laurent De Boeck, added that 77 survivors who were pulled out of the water were taken to a detention centre in Hudaydah.
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One of the survivors, a Yemeni people trafficker, told the Associated Press his vessel had been hit by fire from a helicopter gunship. Al-Hassan Ghaleb Mohammed said the boat had been about 30 miles off the shore of Yemen when it was attacked.
He added that when the gunship opened fire, panic erupted among the refugees. They finally managed to hold up flashlights and show the helicopter they were migrants. He said the helicopter then stopped firing but only after more than 30 Somalis had been killed.
Despite the depiction of the incident, however, an IOM spokesman in Geneva said he was unable to confirm news reports indicating that an Apache had been responsible for the attack, but added: “Our confirmation is that there are dozens of deaths and many dozens of survivors brought to hospitals.”
The rebel-controlled Saba agency said the refugees had been attacked from the air by the Saudi-led coalition battling the insurgents, but did not provide further details.