At least eight migrants have drowned and 12 are missing after human smugglers forced them off a boat near Djibouti, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
Another 14 migrants survived and are receiving medical care, a statement said.
The migrants were all believed to be Ethiopians returning to the Horn of Africa after failing to reach Saudi Arabia via Yemen due to COVID-19 border closures.
The pandemic and the conflict in Yemen have made the journey to Gulf nations more dangerous, and some migrants have turned back.
“At least eight migrants have died and 12 are missing at sea after being forced off a boat by smugglers off the coast of Djibouti, Horn of Africa,” IOM spokesperson Yvonne Ndege said.
“According to eyewitness survivors, assisted by IOM, three smugglers violently forced the young men and women off the vessel while still at sea. Smugglers are known to exploit migrants on this route in this way, many having to pay or their families having to pay large sums to facilitate travel.”
Eight bodies washed ashore and were buried by authorities in Djibouti.
The IOM said some 2,000 migrants have arrived in Djibouti from Yemen in the past three weeks.
“This tragedy is a wake-up call,” added Ndege, warning that further tragedies could occur as hundreds of migrants are leaving Yemen every day on the precarious voyage by boat across the Bab al-Mandeb strait.
In 2017, up to 50 migrants from Somalia and Ethiopia were “deliberately drowned” when a smuggler forced them into the sea off Yemen’s coast.
And in 2018, at least 30 refugees and migrants died when a boat capsized off Yemen, the survivors reporting gunfire.