Dozens of migrants from Ethiopia were flown home on Tuesday from Yemen. This was the first repatriation flight from the war-torn nation since 2019, according to the IOM.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) said that 79 people, including 19 women and 14 children, were flown from the rebel-held capital Sana'a in Yemen to the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa "in its first voluntary humanitarian return flight from Sana'a since 2019."
The IOM's chief for the Middle East and North Africa Carmela Godeau said she hoped Tuesday's flight "is the first of many from Sana'a."
Meanwhile the IOM's Migration Management Program Coordinator Malambo Moonga said that the returnees were all survivors of a fire at a detention center in Sana'a in March, which killed and injured hundreds of migrants. He stressed that "returning home safely is a crucial part of the healing process."
Migrants stuck in Yemen
Migrants from the Horn of Africa often travel to Yemen across the Gulf of Aden in hopes of traveling further and reaching Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states to seek work there. Some 138,000 people made the journey to Yemen in 2019. This number fell to 37,000 in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, many of the migrants end up becoming stuck in Yemen, which has been engulfed in a proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia for years and is in the midst of a humanitarian crisis.
Read more: IOM urges funds to help migrants in Horn of Africa and Yemen
"Migrants in Yemen face grave risks to their safety and dignity," IOM said, adding they are "routinely impacted by smuggling and trafficking." Several migrants died when their boat capsized in the Bab al-Mandab strait in June, which separates the African nation of Djibouti from Yemen and is used as a key passage for trafficking and illegal migration. There are frequent reports of shipwrecks and deaths on the dangerous migration route.
Read more: Migrant shipwreck off Yemen, at least 25 dead, up to 175 missing
A country in the midst of a proxy war
The conflict in Yemen first flared up in 2014 when Huthi insurgents, supported by Iran, seized the capital Sana'a, prompting a Saudi-led military intervention to prop up the official government the following year.
Tens of thousands of people have died either from the fighting or from the ensuing famine in the country, including migrants. Some 80% of Yemenis are now reportedly dependent on some form of aid for survival, with migrants in the country only having limited access to such resources.
There are worries that with the growing internal conflict in Ethiopia's Tigray region, more people might try to reach the Arabian peninsula via Yemen despite the many dangers involved.
Read more: IOM supports COVID vaccination campaign in Yemen