Migrant arrivals plummet while antimigrant abuse spikes leaving thousands stranded
In 2019, more than 138,000 migrants are estimated to have arrived in Yemen, according to IOM’s Data Tracking Matrix, an average of almost 12,000 a month. The vast majority of arrivals are Ethiopian nationals, and most are heading to Gulf States in search of work. However, COVID-19 and tighter border controls at points of departure in Djibouti and Somalia, and at arrival points in Yemen, have led to a drastic fall in the number of migrant arrivals in Yemen this year. In May 2020, the number of arrivals was down 94 per cent on May 2019, and by mid-month only 271 migrant arrivals had been recorded in June 2020.
While the number of migrant arrivals has fallen, anti-migrant sentiments and anti-immigrant policies have increased as part of a COVID-19 backlash. This is not an issue exclusive to Yemen, the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, has highlighted how globally, COVID-19 has been particularly devastating for the displaced and migrants in precarious situations, who face a health and a socio-economic crisis, and fear of COVID-19 has led to skyrocketing xenophobia and racism. In Yemen, IOM has indicated that migrants are being stigmatized as “transmitters of disease”, and that xenophobia and scapegoating campaigns are leading to attacks on migrants, increased detention, denial of access to health services, movement restrictions, and forced movements to frontline and desert areas, leaving migrants stranded without food, water and essential services. In response, humanitarian partners have been scaling up activities to meet the needs of mobile populations – displaced persons, migrants and refugees – since March.
The forced movement of migrants has resulted in challenging humanitarian needs. In the two months to 13 June, the authorities are reported to have forcibly transferred around 1,500 migrants to southern governorates. Those forced to move included women, boys and girls, some of them in need of medical care from illnesses contracted in detention or from gunshot wounds. In Aden City, there has been an increase in the number of migrants stranded as a result of movement restrictions and forced relocations. Over 4,000 migrants have been living in extremely difficult conditions, most of them on the street, struggling to access minimum food, water and basic services. IOM is working with local authorities and partners to support access to basic services like health care. In Sa’ada governorate, there are also reports of 7,000 migrants stuck near the border, while there are reports of thousands of migrants stranded in other governorates across Yemen like Marib and Lahj.