Dubai (AFP) – Nearly 100,000 migrants fled last year to Yemen, itself gripped by war and impending famine, to escape poverty and violence at home, the International Organization for Migration said Tuesday.
Some 7,000 migrants entered Yemen each month, with the total number of arrivals in 2017 reaching near 100,000, the IOM said.
Fleeing violence and poverty in the Horn of Africa, and at the mercy of smugglers, they hope to ultimately reach the more prosperous Gulf countries.
Yemen is bordered to the north by Saudi Arabia.
Once in Yemen — where nearly 10,000 people have been killed in three years of war — the lucky ones find “irregular work”, the IOM said.
Less fortunate migrants face torture, sexual abuse and death.
“Both en route and once in Yemen, many migrants suffer at the hands of cruel smugglers and other criminals, including physical and sexual abuse, torture for ransom, arbitrary detention for long periods of time, forced labour for no pay and even death,” the IOM said.
Human Rights Watch last month released a report documenting Yemeni government employees who had “tortured, raped, and executed” migrants and asylum seekers at the Buraika migrant detention facility in the southern province of Aden, where the country’s embattled government is based.
Migrants held at the facility — in use since early 2017 — were denied refugee protection and often deported en masse into rough seas, the watchdog said.
The United Nations refugee agency has corroborated the report.
Scores of migrants from Somalia and Ethiopia have died off the coast of Yemen in recent months.
Last summer, dozens of migrants drowned after human traffickers forced them off their boats and into the sea. In January, more than 30 migrants drowned when their boat capsized off the Yemeni coast.
In March 2017, a helicopter opened fire on a vessel carrying more than 140 migrants in the Red Sea off the Yemeni coast, killing 42 civilians.
A confidential UN report seen by AFP said the attack was most likely carried out by the Saudi-led coalition, which is fighting alongside the Yemeni government against the country’s northern Huthi rebels, who are linked to Iran.
The conflict has unleashed what the UN has called the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.