Three years of ongoing civil war have had serious consequences on the Yemeni population and now the country is starting to see a migrant crisis brewing.
Yemen has become a country of transit, and sometimes destination, despite of the ongoing conflict for many African migrants looking for work in the Gulf region or fleeing persecution. The porosity at the Yemeni borders eases access to neighboring states: migrants undertake a horrific journey in order to reach countries like Saudi Arabia. According to the data provided by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the number of migrants has grown exponentially: the number is set to rise fifty percent more compared to 2017, where 150.000 undertook the journey from the Horn of Africa to the Gulf.
Their journey usually starts in Africa by hiring a smuggler to assist them in their way across the Gulf of Aden and into Yemen. Without a smuggler the journey is more dangerous and it becomes harder to access basic life necessitates or protection among the route. Migrants choose this route because it is significantly more affordable than going in Libya and then crossing the Mediterranean.
Throughout their journey in the Horn of Africa, migrants cross the desert landscapes suffering hunger and dehydration reaching Djibouti and waiting to cross the Gulf of Aden. A report on the situation in Djibouti stated that the increase of people crossing the country has led to a rise of cholera and acute diarrhea.
Crossing the Gulf of Aden is undertaken with a poorly maintained boat. On this case, a report stated that within 100 people, 46 migrants drowned in June 2018. The IOM has also recorded that smugglers have thrown migrants off of boats leaving them to drown in the Gulf. Survivors told the agency that migrants from Somalia and Ethiopia were “deliberately drowned” off the Yemeni coast. Migrants who survive the journey into the Gulf they continue to be at risk of trafficking, detention or death. In Yemen human trafficking has risen in recent years reaching alarming rates, mainly in child trafficking. Beside the risk of being a victim of human trafficking, migrants face detention by the Yemeni authorities. According to Human Right Watch different cases were documented showing that migrants are sent back to Djibouti on overcrowded boats and that when held in detention they are victim of torture, rape, and even execution.
Those who escape from authorities and reach the border with neighboring countries are under high risk because this area hosts some of the conflict’s harshest fighting. Once seeing closed the possibility of going to other states some migrants wish to return home but find the task impossible lacking money and proper paperwork to exit the country.
In 2017, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees there were over 270,000 Somalian refugees and asylum seekers stuck in Yemen. In December 2018, 408 Ethiopians were repatriated thanks to the collaboration of the IOM, Ethiopian Airlines and Ethiopia Department for Immigration and Nationality Affairs. However, even when migrants return home, they face difficulties with reintegration and often attempt the trek all over again.
For those migrants arrived in Saudi Arabia or other states in the Gulf, the situation remains difficult considering the reputation that these states have in mistreatment of migrants workers. An example is the case of Kuwait where an Ethiopian domestic worker was found dead after her employer abused and murdered her. Saudi Arabia has even gone as far as to expel all undocumented Ethiopian workers as of 2017. According to testimonies migrants are subject to physical and psychological torture as well as being robbed of their possessions. There were an estimated 400,000 undocumented Ethiopian workers living in Saudi Arabia before they were threatened to leave. Saudi Arabia have already behaved harsh on Ethiopian migrants in the past during a crackdown in 2013: Ethiopians were left in the desert near Yemen in an effort to force them to return home.
The situation in many African countries remains unstable: poverty, unemployment and insecurity are the main factors that push migrants to undertake the journey towards the uncertain. In Yemen, the ongoing conflict did not seem to dissuade migrants and the increase in number of arrivals has created a migrant crisis. The civil war has had terrible consequences on the local population and Yemen cannot be at this stage neither a country of transit nor of arrivals. The international community needs to acknowledge the situation and provide help to these migrants, especially for those stranded in Yemen.