There is growing concern and fear at IOM over the fate of many thousands of Ethiopian migrants stranded for several months in northern Yemen in desperate conditions as funds run out to assist the most vulnerable among them.
Since November 2010, IOM has been providing critical humanitarian assistance including shelter, health care and return and reintegration assistance to thousands of migrants stranded in Yemen who want to return home, with the Organization so far having provided 6,169 Ethiopian migrants with return and reintegration assistance.
IOM operations to assist more migrants would have run out but for some emergency stop-gap funding from Saudia Arabia and Japan which will allow the Organization to help a group to return home to Ethiopia soon.
IOM is urgently appealing to donors to fund an appeal of USD 2.6 million. The funds would allow it to assist 6,000 Ethiopian migrants, many of them unaccompanied minors and women in a highly vulnerable situation from a horrific ordeal that shows no sign of ending without humanitarian intervention.
Nearly 18,300 Ethiopian migrants have been registered in the northern town of Haradh on the border with Saudia Arabia in the past 12 months, many of them migrants returned from Saudia Arabia due to their irregular status.
In addition, 2011 has seen a dramatic increase in the number of Ethiopians arriving in Yemen from the Horn of Africa – up from 34,422 in 2010 to more than 65,000 so far this year. It is likely that about 100,000 Ethiopians and Somalis will have crossed the sea into Yemen by the end of 2011, with many having been driven by the drought and famine that struck the Horn of Africa this year.
In Haradh, the vast majority of the migrants are living in open, unprotected spaces in the urban centre without access to food, water, sanitation, shelter or means to earn money. The long period of instability in Yemen which has had a great impact on the population at large, has further marginalized destitute migrants, made further vulnerable by allegations that they are being recruited by opposing factions to fight.
An IOM departure centre for migrants in Haradh with a maximum capacity of 150 is now hosting 350 migrants, the majority of them unaccompanied minors and medical cases.
Having left their poverty-stricken lives in Ethiopia in search of employment in the Gulf and beyond, Ethiopian migrants embark on a life-threatening journey across the Horn of Africa, through the Gulf of Aden and through conflict-ridden Yemen by using smuggling networks.
Those lucky enough to survive this long, dangerous journey either find themselves stranded at the Saudi border unable to progress further or returned from the Gulf country after having been detained there as irregular migrants and are invariably assaulted by smugglers and traffickers. Women and unaccompanied minors are the most vulnerable as they are often kidnapped, exploited and assaulted by smugglers.
Their exhausting ordeal and that of all the migrants in general means many migrants are suffering from illnesses including diarrheal diseases, malaria, respiratory tract infections, snake bites from sleeping in the open, or are suffering from broken limbs, gunshot wounds and other signs of mistreatment from human traffickers and smugglers. A clinic run by IOM in conjunction with the Yemeni Red Crescent is currently overflowing with severe medical cases with IOM and partners including the Charitable Society for Social Welfare (CSSW) carrying out about 2,300 medical consultations each month.
At least 30 migrants in Haradh have known to have died in the past month, though that figure is likely to be higher as there is no clear data available on the deaths that occur at the border and other areas.
“The situation is dire to the extreme. We need to be able to provide assistance on a much larger scale and to get those migrants who want to return to Ethiopia back to the safety of their homes and families now. We cannot stress enough the urgency of this appeal to donors,” says Nicoletta Giordano, IOM Chief of Mission in Yemen.
IOM staff in Yemen say at least 1,000 migrants have been ready to travel immediately for some time and at least another 3,000 keep gathering in front of the IOM centre in Haradh for help, but that the lack of funds has left the Organization hamstrung in the face of such suffering.
Operations to help most of the 1,000 travel-ready migrants return to Ethiopia are due to resume in the coming days. Among the 275 migrants about to leave Haradh are 19 unaccompanied minors as well as eight migrants being given IOM medical escort following the physical torture they endured at the hands of human smugglers.
A further 550 migrants will leave Haradh in the next couple of weeks after which evacuation funds run out.
It will mean that without a speedy response to IOM’s appeal of USD 2.6 million, many thousands of migrants will be left at a great and unacceptable danger.