Why thousands of teenagers are fleeing to war-torn Yemen

A 2007 photo of an Ethiopian migrant who made the journey to Yemen numerous times.

This article contains graphic imagery.

(CNN)Refugees and migrants hoping to reach oil-rich Gulf countries -- many of them teenagers -- are increasingly traversing a dangerous sea route to Yemen, despite the conflict raging there.

The flow of migrants crossing a small sea passage from the Horn of Africa to Yemen, which has continued unabated for years, reached a record of over 117,000 migrants and asylum seekers in 2016 -- up from around 100,000 the year before.
Officials believe the figure for 2017 will be even higher.
    "A lot of people who hear about the route for the first time are quite surprised," Olivia Headon, a press officer at the International Organization for Migration (IOM), told CNN. "They can't imagine why anyone would go into Yemen during the grip of conflict. But some in Somalia aren't aware of just how bad it is in Yemen."

    Why Yemen?

    An undated photo shows Yemeni coast guards checking a boat with refugees arriving in Aden.
    After two-and-a-half years of grinding civil war, Yemen is in the throes of a vicious cholera outbreak and a near famine, coalescing into one of the worst humanitarian crises on the planet.
    But economic and environmental factors in Somalia and Ethiopia, where most of the migrants come from, have left young people feeling there is no future for them at home.
    Youth unemployment is extremely high in parts of Somalia and the country is also experiencing a severe drought that is fueling fears of famine. This spring, Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo declared the drought a national disaster.
    Ethiopians are also facing acute hunger, with the UN saying at least 8.5 million people in the country are in need of immediate food assistance.
    Most of the migrants hope to eventually make their way through Yemen to find jobs in Gulf countries, like Saudi Arabia, Oman, and Dubai.
    "You have smugglers who are selling an idea, a dream. We see it on other routes as well. Even if you are aware of the dangers of the route, as a migrant you buy into the idea, the dream of finding a job there," Headon added.

    Dangers of the route

    The bodies of migrants wash up on a beach in Shabwa, Yemen on Wednesday.
    In the last two days, the United Nations migration agency has recorded two separate instances of smugglers forcing migrants off of boats and into the sea, leaving them to drown.
    Up to 50 refugees and migrants from Somalia and Ethiopia were "deliberately drowned" when they were thrown from a boat off the coast of Yemen, survivors told IOM. The average age of the passengers on board was around 16, according to the group.
    "The survivors told our colleagues on the beach that the smuggler pushed them to the sea wh