Photo: Olivia Headon / IOM 2019

UN Warns of Fate of Ethiopian Migrants Imprisoned in Yemen

One of the absurd tragedies of the Yemen conflict has been the plight of the thousands of migrants who have traveled to Yemen, despite the ongoing conflict. Driven by the promise of finding gainful employment elsewhere on the Arabian Peninsula, migrants from the Horn of Africa are making a dangerous journey across the Red Sea.

In recent weeks, authorities in Yemen have been arresting these migrants and detaining them, en masse, in a soccer stadiums. The International Organization for Migration issued this warning today, about the fate of 3,000 mostly Ethiopian migrants.

Some 3,000 migrants continue to be held in two temporary detention sites in Yemen’s Aden and Abyan governorates. Among those detained are Ethiopian nationals, many practicing Muslims, who are embarking on thirty days of Ramadan fasting while detained.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) has been providing clean water and emergency food at the 22nd of May Stadium in Aden where nearly 2,500 migrants are detained.

On 21 April, authorities in Yemen began detaining nearly 5,000 irregular migrants in two sports stadiums and a military camp in the Aden, Abyan and Lahj governorates. The detainees predominately are Ethiopians, who entered Yemen to seek livelihoods and opportunities on the Arabian Peninsula.

On Friday (03/05), IOM’s Displacement Tracking Matrix (DTM) teams confirmed that 2,473 migrants remain under detention in Aden’s 22nd May Stadium. Of those, the DTM determined 873 are children.

Since last week’s headcount, more people have been brought to that site. An estimated 500 migrants are also being held in a second sports stadium in Abyan.

The story of one such migrant is instructive:

Twenty-three-year-old Abdi* comes from a farming family in the Oromia region of Ethiopia. As Ramadan commences, he wishes he could go home, or anywhere rather than stay in detention in the sports stadium in Aden.

“I wanted to come to an Arabian country to make my life better than my parents’, but when I arrived here [in Yemen] they caught me and brought me to this place,” said Abdi, who left his home just over a month ago without telling his parents.

Starting his journey with only 2,000 birr [USD 70], he eventually he arrived in Djibouti, where he called his parents explaining he needed funds, some 11,000 birr [USD 380], to continue his journey. His parents sold a cow. He said he knew he would perish in the desert without a smuggler to help him complete this “hard journey.”

*Name changed to protect identity   

It is a profound testimony to the pull factors that drive migration that so many people are willing to travel to Yemen at a time like this. Yet, for lack of a resolution to the conflict in Yemen, the plight of these migrants is yet another tragedy around which the international community must muster the funds and political will to address.