Displaced children in Sanaa, Yemen | Photo: EPA/Yahya Arhab
Displaced children in Sanaa, Yemen | Photo: EPA/Yahya Arhab

Tens of thousands of migrants are stuck in worn-torn Yemen amid the coronavirus pandemic. The UN migration agency IOM is worried that they face not only arbitrary detention and abuse, but are also extremely vulnerable to the coronavirus.

The International Organization for Migrants (IOM) warned Tuesday that tens of thousands of migrants are stranded in Yemen, where they are facing arbitrary detention and abuse.

"With the route through the country blocked and migrants being forcibly transferred between governorates, at least 14,500 migrants today are estimated to be stranded in Yemen's Aden, Marib, Lahj and Sa'ada governorates. This figure is a base-line estimate; the actual figure is likely to be much higher," IOM explained.

Even though a civil war has been raging in Yemen for over five years, the country is a transit country for migrants hoping to make it to Saudi Arabia and find work there. Most of these migrants hail from Ethiopia.

COVID-19: Migrants very vulnerable

IOM noted that migrants in Yemen are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, given their limited access to vital services.

"Most of the stranded migrants are sleeping out in the open or in unsafe abandoned buildings, which puts them at greater risk of exposure to COVID-19. They have little access to basic services like food, clean water or health care - a worrying situation given how rife the virus is in Yemen," IOM warned.

"For nearly six years, Yemen has been an extremely unsafe place to be a migrant," said Christa Rottensteiner, IOM's chief of mission in Yemen. "COVID-19 has made this situation worse -- migrants are scapegoated as carriers of the virus and, as a result, suffer exclusion and violence," she explained. "As a reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic, migrants in Yemen have been experiencing verbal and physical harassment, increased detention, movement restrictions as well as forced movements to areas far from main urban centres or services. This is in addition to the abuses many already endure at the hands of smugglers and traffickers -- among them exploitation and torture," the IOM statement read.

Migrant arrivals plunged

While many migrants are stuck in warn-torn Yemen due the coronavirus pandemic, the crisis also led to a decrease in migrant arrivals in the country. "COVID-19 related restrictions have led to a 90 percent reduction in migrant arrivals in Yemen between February [and] June; they also have caused tens of thousands of Ethiopian migrants to be stranded on their journeys," IOM said in a press release.

Over 138,000 migrants arrived in Yemen from the Horn of Africa in 2019, according to IOM's Displacement Tracking Matrix (DTM). This this year only 1,725 arrivals were registered by IOM.

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