Ethiopian Tigray migrants stand in line as they are counted by smugglers after arriving in Yemen
Ethiopian Tigray migrants stand in line as they are counted by smugglers after arriving in Yemen

Tens of thousands of people migrate from Eastern Africa to Yemen each year – even though the country has been devastated by a civil war, and smugglers frequently blackmail and torture migrants. Most migrants are hoping to make it to Saudi Arabia, and find work there. Let’s take a closer look at this highly dangerous migrant route.

16-year old Ethiopian migrants Hamdiya Ikram and Safeya from right to left pose for a portrait at a slum where they took shelter after entering Djibouti  Photo picture-allianceAP PhotoNariman El-Mofty

First stop: Djibouti

The small country of Djibouti, located across from Yemen, is often a first stop for migrants. Only the Bab al-Mandab Strait, which is roughly 30 kilometers wide at its narrowest point, separates the two countries. That’s why Djibouti is a transit country for many migrants trying to make it to Saudi Arabia through Yemen. Many migrants hail from Djibouti's neighboring countries, Ethiopia and Somalia. These three Ethopian girls were photographed after they entered Dikhil, Djibouti.

13-year old Ethiopian migrant Barakat Youanas who crossed at night from Ethiopia into Djibouti  Photo picture-allianceAP PhotoNariman El-Mofty

13 years old, all by themselves

The journey through Yemen from the Horn of Africa to Saudi Arabia is one of the fastest growing migrant routes worldwide -- even though there is a civil war raging in Yemen, and the UN has repeatedly called the situation in Yemen "the worst humanitarian crisis in the world."  The migrants' dream:  Escaping poverty by finding work in Saudi Arabia. Many of the migrants who leave countries such as Ethiopia and Somalia are extremely young. Like this boy, who is covering his eyes to protect them from a sandstorm, after crossing into Djibouti from Ethiopia. He is only 13 years old.  

Ethiopian migrants disembark a boat on the shores of Ras al-Ara Lahj Yemen  Photo picture-allianceAP PhotoNariman El-Mofty

Crossing the ocean in small boats

To make it from Eastern Africa into Yemen, migrants have to cross the ocean. They are often sent out in small, crowded boats that are ill-equipped for the journey by traffickers. In January of this year, at least 52 people died off the shore of Djibouti, according to IOM. The migrants in the picture made it to the shores of Yemen. They arrived on the shores of Ras al-Ara in the Lahj region in late July of this year.

Smugglers move migrants on a  truck to a hosh lock up in southwestern Yemen  Photo picture-allianceAP PhotoNariman El-Mofty

Robbed of their freedom

After enduring hours crammed on a wooden smuggling boats, migrants are often loaded into trucks by traffickers and driven to compounds in the desert. Nearly every migrant who lands in the coastal village of Ras al-Ara -- a migrant hotspot in Yemen -- is robbed of their freedom by traffickers, unable to continue their journey. 

Ethiopian migrant girls sit inside in a lockup known in Arabic as a hosh in Ras al-Ara Lahj Yemen  Photo picture-allianceAP PhotoNariman El-Mofty

Imprisoned, families blackmailed 

The migrants are imprisoned in hidden compounds, called “hosh,” while their families are blackmailed into paying for their release. Yemeni authorities do little to stop these criminal activities, according to reports by AP.  Most migrants are subjected to daily torments -- beatings, torture, starvation,... -- while many women and girls are raped by their captors.  

17-year-old Ethiopian migrant Abdul-Rahman Taha shows his amputated leg a consequence of torture by smugglers  Photo picture-allianceAP PhotoNariman El-Mofty

Horrifying torture

This 17-year-old Ethopian migrant was tortured so brutally that he lost his leg. After Abdul-Rahman landed in Ras al-Ara, traffickers locked him up and asked for phone numbers of people who could transfer money for their release. He told his captors he didn't have a number, because he knew that couldn't ask his father for more money. He was beaten and left without food or water for days, weeks even. One night, one of the captors beat his leg to a pulp with a steel rod. Then, he was dumped in the desert. A passing driver brought him to a hospital, where his leg was amputated. 

Fatma and her husband Yacoub migrants from Mali carry their children as they make their way in Lahj Yemen  Photo picture-allianceAP PhotoNariman El-Mofty

A rare case of mercy

This couple was imprisoned in a “hosh”, but their smugglers let them go because of their children. Fatma and her husband Yacoub are originally from Mali. They came to Yemen by boat from Djibouti. They want to go to Saudi Arabia, but making it there will be difficult, if not impossible, for them – especially because they have two young children. To make it from Yemen to its northern neighbor, they have to cross through mountains and deserts, through places where sandstorms are frequent and temperatures can reach 40 degrees Celsius and higher. 

The 22nd May Soccer Stadium in Aden Yemen was partly destroyed because of the war  Photo picture-allianceAP PhotoNariman El-Mofty

A war-torn country

The UN has called the situation in Yemen, where a civil war has been raging for four years, "the worst humanitarian crisis in the world." Tens of thousands of people have been killed and injured. Over 3 million people have been displaced. More than 20 million people in Yemen are food insecure, including nearly 10 million who are suffering from extreme levels of hunger, an UN report released earlier this year revealed.

A 14-year old Ethiopian migrant who was physically abused on his journey crossing into Yemen rests on his makeshift bed in the 22nd May Soccer Stadium   Photo picture-allianceAP PhotoNariman El-Mofty

Destroyed stadium becomes refugee shelter

The northeastern coastal city of Aden is a transit point for many migrants. The "22nd May Soccer Stadium" in the city, which was partially destroyed by the war, became a  temporary refuge for thousands of migrants this summer. One of them is this 14-year old Ethiopian migrant, who was physically abused on his journey crossing into Yemen. He is resting on a makeshift bed in the stadium. At first, security forces housed migrants they captured in raids at the stadium. Soon, other migrants showed up voluntarily, hoping for shelter. Then, the International Organization for Migration started distributing food there and arranging voluntary repatriations. 

Ethiopian migrants take shelter in a small shack at a Qat market in Dhale province which is one of the stops where migrants take shelter to continue their journey to Saudi Arabia  Photo picture-allianceAP PhotoNariman El-Mofty

Extremely close to the frontline

Many migrants in Yemen who want to reach Saudi Arabia travel through Dhale province, located tens of kilometers inland from the southern coast. Staying and travelling through there is extremely dangerous. These migrants took shelter in a small shack at a Qat market. The frontline between militiamen backed by the Saudi-led coalition and Houthi rebels is only a few hundred meters away. 

With material/text from picture-alliance, AP


More articles