Yemen: Helping migrants from the Horn of Africa

12 February, 2013
A new arrival enjoys his first meal in three days at the Mayfa'a reception centre in Southern Yemen. Credit: UNHCR/J.Björgvinsson
A new arrival enjoys his first meal in three days at the Mayfa'a reception centre in Southern Yemen. Credit: UNHCR/J.Björgvinsson

Adam Abdul Haji, 19, left his home town of Jimma in Ethiopia with a group of friends to find work in Saudi Arabia. That dream came to an abrupt end when he was seriously injured in a car accident in Yemen and abandoned by the side of the road.

Two months later, he is still receiving treatment at a medical clinic in Haradh, northern Yemen. "As soon as I get healed, I intend to return home to Ethiopia," he said.

The 50-bed clinic, operated by the Yemen Red Crescent Society with support from the International Organization for Migration (IOM), is crowded. It is one of the only options for medical attention available to migrants stranded in Yemen and according to medical staff, the most common health problems are dengue fever, malaria and post-operative complications related to gun-shot wounds and broken limbs.

Like Haji, thousands of people leave the Horn of Africa region, especially Ethiopia and Somalia, with hopes of a better life in the Arabian Peninsula. In 2012, more than 107,000 migrants arrived in Yemen, according to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).

It is a perilous journey in overcrowded boats through the Gulf of Aden. UNHCR estimates that more than 100 people drowned or went missing at sea in 2011 alone.

When they arrive in Yemen, many migrants are often exploited by smugglers. They are easy prey because they have no legal documents.

"I was taken to a smuggler’s home where I was beaten so money could be sent to them from home," said Mongsa Moyle, 19. "I was then brought to Hodeidah, where they started to burn my fingers with hot irons. Eventually, I was left… because I had no money. It took two weeks for my fingers to heal."

Another migrant said he left Tigray, Ethiopia, with 40 other people and travelled to Djibouti's port village of Hayu where they boarded a boat for Yemen. On arrival, they were ordered to get into some vehicles. When he and three others refused, they were shot. Only he survived.

Fadra Mostafa, 16, said she left Ethiopia to escape abuse by her father. Smugglers abandoned her in the desert where she was picked up by another group. "I was forced to marry a man who said he would give me money," she said. "He took me to Haradh where I was tortured by smugglers again until I was brought me to the IOM camp."

The IOM-managed camp registers 40-50 people a day. Those who want to return home, like Haji, are registered for voluntary return. Each person receives a flight from Hodeidah in Yemen to Addis Ababa in Ethiopia and a grant of US$100.

Some of the funding for IOM’s work in Yemen came from the OCHA-managed Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF), which aims to bring urgent aid to underfunded crises and neglected emergencies.  

Reporting by OCHA/Yemen