Fire in Sana’a Immigration Holding Facility
On 7 March, a fire tore through an immigration holding facility in Sana’a, killing at least 45 migrants and injuring over 170 others. Nearly 900 migrants – most of whom are Ethiopian – were held in the overcrowded facility, which is run by the Immigration, Passports and Naturalization Authority (IPNA). Over 350 people were in the hangar area where the fire broke out, reportedly as a result of teargas canisters discharged into the hangar by guards attempting to end migrants’ protests against their treatment at the facility.
Humanitarian actors were on site when this devastating incident occurred, enabling an immediate response as teams of health workers and ambulances were swiftly dispatched to the facility and major hospitals to support the Ministry of Public Health and Population in providing urgent life-saving assistance. Access to victims of the fire has been challenging, however. Health teams were initially kept out of intensive care units (ICU) and emergency rooms, and the migrant community was denied access to the injured and the deceased. Humanitarian and health partners have since been able to gain access to survivors, albeit with continued heightened security presence and limits on access to ICUs and the main burn unit where patients are receiving treatment.
As of 31 March, more than 29,000 medical items have been provided by humanitarian partners, as well as 610 food packages and 204 kits of non-food items including clothes, hygiene materials and other specialized items. Delivery of a further 17,000 medical kits and supplies and 500 blankets has also been coordinated. Humanitarian actors continue to communicate offers of support to the hospitals and to authorities, including with regard to family tracing efforts for the dead and injured.
Forty-five victims of the fire have reportedly been buried in the Sana’a Central Cemetery, and of the estimated 170 injured migrants, some remain in public hospitals while others were transferred to private hospitals, police stations or other temporary detention facilities. Detainees of the affected facility who escaped the fire were reportedly released into Sana’a city, transferred to police stations or to southern governorates controlled by the international recognized government as the facility was vacated following the tragedy. Efforts to verify their whereabouts are ongoing, as are discussions between key stakeholders to potentially organize exceptional returns for people affected.
Despite the ongoing conflict and the COVID-19 pandemic, Yemen remains a transit country for migrants travelling between the Horn of Africa and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Some 138,000 migrants lived in Yemen as of late 2020, all of whom have a right to protection and safety afforded by the authorities. The UN reiterates its call for the cessation of arbitrary arrest, detention and forced transfer of migrants in Yemen. Alternatives to detention are needed for humane migration management, with migrants granted freedom of movement and access to services as well as access to voluntary and safe humanitarian returns administered in line with international human rights standards.