42 Somalis killed in migrant boat airstrike

It remains unclear who carried out the attack

It's reported that least 42 people have died and an additional 80 others injured following an airstrike on a boat carrying Somali migrants, including women and children late Thursday evening.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) said at a news conference in Geneva today that the vessel was hit near the Bab al-Mandeb strait in the Red Sea, and that they are unable to confirm if the attack had been carried out by an Apache helicopter gunship.

An IOM spokesperson said that “our confirmation is that there are dozens of deaths and many dozens of survivors brought to hospitals.”

It is believed that the boat was headed towards Sudan, and the UN Refugee agency has said that the dead Somalis were carrying official UNHCR documents.

Al-Hassan Ghaleb Mohammed told the Associated Press news agency the refugees were trying to reach Sudan after leaving Ras Arra.

He said the refugees held up flashlights in an attempt to show they were migrants. The helicopter then stopped firing, he said, but only after dozens had been killed.

The port is currently controlled by Houthi rebels who are fighting a Saudi-led coalition in Yemen's war, which has been ongoing for the last two years.

In general, the coalition is in charge of Yemen's airspace, although no comment has been made by the Saudi coalition despite claims by the rebel-controlled Saba agency that the refugees were attacked from the air by the coalition.

Of the 80 people injured, 24 remain in critical condition in hospital, while the UNHCR condemned “this tragic incident, the latest in which civilians continue to disproportionately bear the brunt of conflict in Yemen”.

Yemen has a lack of central authority 

Despite more than two years of fighting, African migrants continue to arrive in Yemen, where a lack of central authority means they are free to travel onwards to Saudi Arabia.

More than 111,500 migrants travelled to Yemen last year, up from around 100,000 the year before, according to the Regional Mixed Migration Secretariat.

The war has left migrants vulnerable to armed trafficking rings, which are thought to be connected to the groups involved in the conflict.

The Houthi movement - which champions Yemen's Zaidi Shia Muslim minority - is engaged in conflict with coalition troops and pro-government fighters, who are trying to advance northward to stop them taking control of Red Sea ports.

The conflict began when the Shia Houthis, supported by former president Ali Abdullah Saleh and allies, seized the capital, Sanaa, in September 2014, overthrowing Saudi-backed President Abed-Rabbo Mansour Hadi's government.

Somalia is currently on the brink of a famine, with 2.9m people at risk of a lack of food, according the the UN. 

Famine last struck Somalia in 2011 killing more than 200,000 people, and the UN recently warned that the current drought gripping Somalia could become the largest humanitarian crisis since 1945.