HORN OF AFRICA-YEMEN MIGRATION FLOWS IN 2020
In 2020, movement restrictions and border closures related to the COVID-19 pandemic led to an extremely low rate of migrant arrivals into Yemen. A total of 37,535 people arrived on Yemeni shores last year, compared to an estimated over 138,000 in 2019 with similar numbers arriving the year prior. As a key country on the irregular route between the Horn of Africa and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), Yemen is not the intended final destination for the majority of migrants who arrive in the country. Initially hoping to transit through and find better life opportunities in KSA, thousands became stranded for months in dire livings conditions at key migrant hubs across the country, with no means of returning home and at risk of contracting COVID-19. Migrant’s access to assistance and support, as well as their well-being and safety conditions, progressively worsened throughout the year due to the deteriorating protection and humanitarian context in the country.
From the onset of the pandemic, a discriminatory narrative labelling migrants as carriers of COVID-19 became prevalent in Yemen. For many migrants, this affected their access to basic services, such as access to the national health care system, while increasing the risk of arrest or detention in inhumane conditions. At least 6,000 migrants are estimated to be held in detention across the country while hundreds, if not thousands, of migrants are held by smugglers (these numbers are difficult to assess due to lack of access). With limited options for survival, most migrants are dependent on humanitarian assistance or on the mercy of smugglers and traffickers for support. The pandemic has also been used as an excuse to rid certain areas of migrants. Last year over 15,000 migrants were forcibly transferred from northern to southern governorates, which greatly increased their presence there, particularly in Aden city, and consequently exacerbated their needs and pre-existing vulnerabilities.
Increasing discrimination, lack of means to survive and border closures have pushed many migrants to change their initial plan to attempt to cross into KSA, and to look for ways to return home. As IOM’s Voluntary Humanitarian Return (VHR) programme to Ethiopia was temporarily paused due to pandemic related concerns, migrants lacked options for safe return. Since May 2020, over 6,000 migrants made their way from Yemen to Djibouti, travelling back on smuggling boats to once again risk their lives at sea and in the desert. IOM, in coordination with the Government of Ethiopia, is planning to resume its VHR programme to Ethiopia in 2021, as a critical life-line service for the thousands of migrants stranded in Yemen and requesting for humanitarian support to go home.