Somali refugees walking beside a road on the western coast of Hodeidah city, Yemen | Photo: EPA/STRINGER
Somali refugees walking beside a road on the western coast of Hodeidah city, Yemen | Photo: EPA/STRINGER

The conditions for migrants and refugees in Yemen are getting worse amid the global coronavirus pandemic. Not only are refugees and migrants more vulnerable to contracting the dangerous disease, but they are also increasingly facing stigmatization and prejudice.

The first corona case in Yemen was a Somali national, who was found dead in a hotel in the capital Sana’a. The official number of cases since has remained surprisingly low at about 1,000 infections since then; however, due to a massive shortfall in medical services in the country since the start of the war in 2015, more than one quarter of all infected people have died, with migrants being perceived as more likely to catch the disease.

The United Nations says that since the first case was recorded, tensions between migrant and host communities have therefore been rising, as resources in the war-torn country are reaching historic lows at the same time. This is leading to abject poverty among migrant communities, the majority of whom are comprised of African nationals, especially Somalians and Ethiopians, who came from the Horn of Africa to Yemen across the Gulf of Aden.This map shows the Horn of Africa Saudi Arabia and Yemen"When [migrants and refugees] reach the UNHCR office or our partners they are often without anything, not even identity documents most of the time," UNHCR representative Jean-Nicolas Beuze told the Reuters news agency, stressing that the relationship between Yemeni nationals and foreigners is coming under increasing strain.

The IOM meanwhile says that amid this volatile climate, many migrants have forcibly been transferred away from urban areas to remote locations, including 1,300 people being moved from the rebel-held north of the country to the south in April. Those who can find a way to return to their home countries are increasingly opting to do so.

Read more: Coronavirus: Over 15,000 Ethiopians returned home since April

Stuck in Sana’a -- without help

But many migrants and refugees remain stuck in the country and are facing increasing hardship, as the pandemic continues. Somali migrant Bader Hassan told Reuters  that he is witnessing acts of ostracism on a daily basis, despite having lived through war and suffering in Yemen for the past six years: "They ask 'what's your nationality: Yemen, Somalia?' I say Somali and they say 'sorry, goodbye'," he told Reuters with regard to his daily interactions with potential customers in Sana’a.

Hassan washes cars in the street after dropping out of school early. With the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown measures that include the limiting of movement in cars, he might soon be out of a job. "But how do we live now when corona is also shutting off car washing?" he said. As a migrant in Yemen, Hassan says he receives no state or charity support.

With the coronavirus pandemic threatening his livelihood further, the 32-year-old Somali says that he wants to leave now to seek a better life elsewhere: "Me, my wife and my son want to live in a good place, like other people," he explained. Like many other migrants in the country, he now lives in the fear of arbitrarily being deported to an overcrowded camp.Migrants being detained in Yemen  Photo IOM'People tired of helping us'

Ethiopian migrant Abdelaziz is equally desperate to leave the dire conditions in Yemen behind. He told Reuters that people in Yemen, who themselves are facing starvation, malnutrition and the threat of falling victim to air raids, are growing "tired of helping us."

"We have nothing to eat and drink," he explained. Abdelaziz also told Reuters that since his arrival in Yemen by sea, his onward journey plans to Saudi Arabia have been stopped by authorities running the internationally unrecognized regime in the north of the country. Along with other African migrants, he now sleeps on cardboard next to a road where once used to be a garden. 

Still, he is fortunate: On his journey to Yemen, several people who were on the same boat as Abdelaziz drowned. There have been reports of others, who were pushed back into the sea upon arrival on Yemen's shores. 

Read more: Ethiopian migrants to Gulf unaware of dangers - IOM IOM staff assisting Somali and Ethiopian migrants who were reportedly forced into the sea by smugglers on a beach in Shabwa Yemen  Photo EPAIOM Ethiopian nationals, who make up the majority of migrants in Yemen, report that they suffer grave abuses at the hands of people smugglers -- including rape and theft of property. Many say they hope to travel on to Saudi Arabia or other nearby countries, such as the wealthy Gulf states. But as the deadly conflict in the county enters its sixth year, there appears to be no hope in sight for improvement or peace.

According to Reuters, the war has left 80% of the population of more than 24 million relying on international aid and 3.6 million displaced, with migrant communities often being hit the worst.

Read more: Coronavirus in Yemen: A country on the brink

With Thomson Reuters


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