Yemen - A delegation of humanitarian agencies, including IOM, led by the top UN official in Yemen Resident Coordinator Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, yesterday (18/4) visited the Yemeni-Saudi border and witnessed the harrowing conditions facing thousands of migrants from the Horn of Africa.
The visit follows recent raids conducted by Yemeni authorities on smugglers and traffickers camps around the border town of Haradh. These resulted in the rescue of 1,987 migrants from traffickers, who extorted money from them and often tortured those who could not pay.
“The traffickers took my money – USD 1,000 – and left me in the desert. I have lost everything,” said Layla, an Ethiopian woman freed from the traffickers.
IOM Yemen Chief of Mission Nicoletta Giordano, who accompanied the delegation, described living conditions of the migrants as ‘terrible.’ “Many are sheltering in the open in one military camp without access to adequate food, health care or sanitation facilities,” she noted.
Recent changes in Saudi labour laws for foreign workers, resumption of a project to fence off the 1,800 km border with Yemen, and the raids on traffickers’ camps have exacerbated the situation of an already overflowing population of destitute migrants stranded at the border in Haradh.
The Government of Yemen has stepped in and begun military flights to return hundreds of Ethiopian migrants to Addis Ababa. Many are being housed in government facilities in Amran and Sana’a pending their return.
A total of 1,163 migrants, including 121 women and girls, are currently being accommodated at an Immigration, Passport and Naturalization Authority (IPNA) facility in Sana’a, while another 535, including 90 women and girls, are waiting at the Amran Central Prison. Both holding facilities are already filled beyond their maximum capacity.
As of 16th April, IOM Yemen has been providing emergency assistance and medical care to both groups, as well as an estimated 550 migrants currently camped outside the IPNA premises in Sana’a in exposed conditions. A further 150 stranded migrants in desperate need are located in Basateen district, Aden.
To date, only one of the three scheduled military flights has left Sana’a, carrying a total of 318 Ethiopian migrants. Subsequent flights will be scheduled pending the issuance of necessary travel documents and the success of on-going arrangements between the Yemeni and Ethiopian governments on transfer modalities.
IOM Yemen is urgently appealing for USD 1.2 million following a request by the Yemeni authorities to provide urgent shelter, food, basic health care and protection to migrants in Aden, Amran, Haradh and Sana’a, where many migrants are currently seeking refuge at the Ethiopian Embassy, IOM offices and a Yemeni military base.