Tens of thousands of Ethiopian migrants bound for Saudi Arabia are currently stranded in Yemen because of the coronavirus travel restrictions, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said.
The migrants face increasing dangers throughout Yemen—a major transit country on the Horn of Africa-Arabian Gulf migration route—without vital services or a means to return home, said the UN migration agency.
“For nearly six years, Yemen has been an extremely unsafe place to be a migrant. COVID-19 has made this situation worse – migrants are scapegoated as carriers of the virus and, as a result, suffer exclusion and violence,” said Christa Rottensteiner, the IOM Chief of Mission in Yemen.
Migrants predominantly from Ethiopia travel through Djibouti or Somali to reach Yemen, hoping to eventually make it to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in search of work opportunities unavailable at home.
With the route through the country blocked and migrants being forcibly transferred between governorates, at least 14,500 migrants today are estimated to be stranded in Yemen’s Aden, Marib, Lahj and Sa’ada governorates. This figure is a base-line estimate; the actual figure is likely to be much higher.
IOM works across the Horn of Africa and Arabian Gulf to provide assistance and protection to vulnerable migrants. In 2019, IOM reached nearly 60,000 migrants in Yemen with shelter support, health care, distribution of essential items like hygiene kits, voluntary return assistance and psychosocial support.
As a reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic, migrants in Yemen have been experiencing verbal and physical harassment, increased detention, movement restrictions as well as forced movements to areas far from main urban centres or services.
This is in addition to the abuses many already endure at the hands of smugglers and traffickers—among them exploitation and torture.
Most of the stranded migrants are sleeping out in the open or in unsafe abandoned buildings, which puts them at greater risk of exposure to COVID-19. They have little access to basic services like food, clean water or health care – a worrying situation given how rife the virus is in Yemen.
The difficulties migrants face in accessing the public health care system are not surprising in a country where only 50% of health facilities are fully functional and struggle to respond to rising health needs.
“Local communities and authorities are supporting these migrants, but they are under tremendous stress themselves. Stranded migrants must be provided health care and other vital services. IOM is providing this assistance wherever possible, but our 2020 Yemen crisis appeal is alarmingly 50% underfunded, greatly impacting our ability to support vulnerable communities,” said Rottensteiner.
Earlier in 2020, IOM launched an appeal for USD 155 million to support over 5.3 million people by the end of the year. Without urgent funds, over 2.5 million displaced Yemenis and migrants will be left alone to face the devastating fall out of nearly six years of conflict and the worsening COVID-19 outbreak. (Source: IOM)