Somali refugees on boat killed by helicopter gunship off Yemen coast

Yemeni forces down Saudi helicopter in Hudaydah province

An attack helicopter targeted a boat carrying Somali refugees off the coast of Yemen, killing at least 31 people holding U.N.travel documents, worldwide migration officials said Friday.

Read Also: Saudi Arabia's king postpones visit to Maldives over swine flu The ICRC's Eric Christopher Wyss, quoting survivors at the scene, said many people on the boat "were refugees from Somalia or Yemen, fleeing the conflict".

The spokeswoman for the United Nations refugee agency in Yemen, Shabia Mantoo, confirmed that refugees were killed, but did not cite any specific casualty count.

It is believed at least 80 refugees had been rescued after the incident, which occurred near the Bab-el-Mandeb strait late on Thursday (16 March).

It is not immediately clear who carried out the attack.

The rebel-controlled Saba agency accused the Saudi-led coalition battling the insurgents of attacking the refugees from the air but did not provide further details.

International Organization for Migration (IOM) confirmed "dozens of deaths and many dozens of survivors brought to hospitals".

The war in Yemen has killed more than 10,000 civilians and pushed the Arab world's poorest nation to the brink of starvation.

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He says when the helicopter gunship opened fire, panic erupted among the refugees.

Two missiles fired by Houthi rebels on Friday hit worshippers in Sirwa, western Marib province.

There was no comment from the coalition. They finally managed to hold up flashlights and show the helicopter they were poor migrants.

Other local sources said that a number of Yemeni fishermen were killed when the same warplanes struck their boat near Yemen's Red Sea Coast.

The refugees were on their way from Yemen to Sudan when they were attacked by an Apache helicopter near the strait, coastguard Mohamed al-Alay told Reuters.

He went on to call the attack "totally unacceptable", adding that those responsible should have checked who was aboard the boat "before firing on it." .

Despite the crisis, Yemen continues to be an important transit point for African migrants.

Yemen has been suffering from a civil war and a Saudi-led military intervention for around two years.

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