More support is needed to protect and assist migrants and help those stranded return home
Aid partners estimate that over 138,000 migrants – and some 140,000 refugees and asylum seekers – in Yemen need urgent support. Of those, it is estimated that 32,000 migrants are stranded in dire conditions due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, which have impeded their journeys to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA). Thousands of these stranded migrants are being held in detention, while others are being held by smugglers and traffickers who exploit them to make profits as they try to make up for losses from smuggling migrants into the KSA.
Aid partners are doing everything they can to support migrants, refugees and asylum seekers, who are completely reliant on humanitarian assistance to meet their basic needs. They are providing them with multisector life-saving assistance and specialized protection services, as well as promoting self-reliance and community cohesion. However, the Refugees and Migrants Multi-Sector – which aims to address the multiplicity of threats, risks, vulnerabilities and overall needs of migrants, asylum seekers and refugees – has so far received only 4.7 per cent of the US$58.7 million required this year.
The humanitarian community continues to advocate with the authorities in Yemen and along migration routes to ensure that migrants have access to life-saving assistance. Humanitarian partners emphasize the need to respect the human rights of migrants and refugees, including freedom of movement, and to protect them from being subjected to forced transfers or arbitrary detention. They also advocate for addressing the drivers of irregular migration; and guarantee safe, voluntary and dignified return options for stranded migrants, as well as refugees and asylum-seekers.
Aid partners continue to support voluntary return options despite limited funding. Many of the migrants stranded in Yemen lack access to life-saving humanitarian assistance and endure multiple human rights violations. According to International Organization for Migration (IOM), some migrants are forced to work off their debts on farms, while others are exposed to gender-based violence (GBV) and are extorted for ransom. The vast majority lack access to water, food, sanitation and health care. Unsurprisingly, many migrants have become increasingly desperate to return home. IOM estimates that, since May 2020, at least 18,000 migrants have made the perilous return journey by sea to Djibouti or Somalia, using the same network of smugglers they used to travel into Yemen. Dozens of migrants have drowned this year after overcrowded boats capsized.
As of 27 September, IOM has assisted nearly 1,300 migrants to voluntarily return on 11 flights from Aden and 79 others on a flight from Sana’a so far in 2021. IOM is aiming to operate two Voluntary Humanitarian Return (VHR) flights per week for the remainder of the year. In addition to arranging flights, IOM offers counselling to the migrants before they leave, helps them secure travel documents and liaises with authorities in Yemen and Ethiopia to ensure safe passage and transit. In Ethiopia, returning migrants are temporarily accommodated at the IOM transit centre, where they are given food, essential non-food items, counselling services, and a transport allowance to their final destinations. IOM also arranges medical and psychological care, as well as family tracing and reunification for unaccompanied migrant children.
IOM urgently needs $3 million to help nearly 5,000 stranded Ethiopian migrants who are waiting for their chance to safely return home by the end of 2021.