HORN OF AFRICA-YEMEN MIGRATION TRENDS IN 2021
In the first quarter of 2021, migrant arrivals into Yemen remained low compared to pre-pandemic years, despite some loosening of movement restrictions and border security. Some 5,113 migrants arrived in Yemen in the first quarter of this year, compared with 27,948 in the same period in 2020, and 37,109 in 2019. The few migrants, who have attempted to migrate irregularly to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) during the pandemic, have typically found themselves stranded at some point along the journey in the Horn of Africa or Yemen. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimates that more than 32,000 migrants are stranded across Yemen in dire conditions, with extremely limited-to-no access to essential services like shelter, food, water and health care.
On 07 March, a fire broke out in the Immigration Passports and Naturalization Authority (IPNA) Immigration Holding Facility in Sana’a, causing the death of more than 40 detained migrants, and leaving over 170 injured, some of whom were in critical condition. IOM provided immediate medical and protection assistance in the aftermath of the fire, while supplying medical equipment and food to the three hospitals treating the victims and other locations where migrants were held. By the end of this quarter, the locations of those affected by the fire or in the facility at the time was not confirmed; it was believed that some remained in Sana’a city while others were in Aden, who may have been forcibly transferred there or made their own way, and some people were possibly in other locations across Yemen. The Immigration Holding Facility has yet to be used again as a migrant detention site. IOM continues discussions with authorities in Sana’a and Ethiopia to restart its Voluntary Humanitarian Return (VHR) programme from Sana’a city, prioritizing the most vulnerable people outside of detention, including victims of the fire.
Despite the closure of the Immigration Holding Facility in Sana’a, it is reported that forced transfers to southern governorates are continuing. Migrants are typically dropped near the control-line and then make their way over it and onto Aden where there are over 6,000 migrants stranded. IOM estimates that over 22,000 migrants have been forcibly transferred in this manner since November 2019.
As conditions for stranded migrants in Yemen have continued to deteriorate, migrants often feel that they have no options other than to put their lives back into the hands of smugglers to travel home to the Horn of Africa. Over 11,400 people have made this unsafe and, at times, deadly return journey across the Gulf of Aden since May 2020, according to IOM’s Displacement Tracking Matrix. The boat journey between Yemen and Djibouti is short but dangerous, as sadly illustrated by a boat incident in March when smugglers forced migrants into the sea causing some to drown on their way to Yemen. For those returning, once they reach Djibouti, they must make the land journey through the scorching hot Djiboutian desert to the Ethiopian border, often walking a large portion of the way.
With movement restrictions in place globally and possible public health risks related to international travel, IOM’s Voluntary Humanitarian Return (VHR) Programme from Aden to Ethiopia was put on hold as of March 2020 when the last two flights took off. Working with the Government of Ethiopia, IOM was able to restart the Programme with a flight carrying 140 Ethiopian migrants safely from Aden to Addis Ababa on 16 March 2021. This flight was the first in an initial batch of 1,100 people, who have had their nationalities verified by the Government of Ethiopia. Most migrants are undocumented and need travel documents in order to return regularly. In total, IOM has registered over 6,200 migrants who wish to return through the programme via its Aden Migrant Response Point (MRP) since October 2020. IOM’s VHR Programme represents, for many, the only safe lifeline currently available to save them from dire conditions of discrimination and deprivation in Yemen.
To improve living conditions for stranded migrants in Aden, IOM instituted a cash for work programme in November 2020, which continued throughout the first quarter of this year. This programme is providing 1,200 migrants, who have no income or will not be able to return soon, with the means to sustain themselves until a safe means of travelling home is available
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