Sanaa – Yemen has witnessed a considerable increase in the number of African migrants and asylum-seekers arriving in 2014 despite growing insecurity in the country, UN officials have said.
“[In 2014], over 82,000 people have reached Yemen’s shores from the Horn of Africa, compared to 65,000 in 2013,” Nick Stanton, a communications officer with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Yemen, told Al Jazeera.
The drowning of 24 Ethiopian migrants off Yemen’s western coast on Monday highlighted the plight African migrants are facing in Yemen. In a similar incident one month ago, a boat loaded with migrants shipwrecked off the same area, the country’s coastguard said.
In a statement posted to the Interior Ministry’s official website, the coastguard said sea guards found the bodies of the migrants strewn across the shore of the Souida region, in the Makha district of Taiz province, and began seeking their identities. Earlier this month, the ministry said 70 African nationals died off the same coast when their boat collapsed due to strong wind and tidal waves.
The number of Africans who perished off Yemen’s coast this year is bigger than the last three years combined, the UN said. In October, 64 migrants and three crew members died when their vessel, sailing from Somalia, sank in the Gulf of Aden. The yearly tally for 2014 reached 223, exceeding the combined total for the previous three years of 179, according to UN figures.
Yemen has long complained that the influx of African migrants to its shores has further harmed the country’s weakening economy and deteriorating security. The government has urged international donors several times to help the country to feed these refugees.
In December, the Interior Ministry said as many as 100,000 Africans arrive in Yemen annually, fleeing poverty and war in the Horn of Africa. In November, Yemen’s deputy foreign minister, Amer al-Aidaroos, said the number of legal and illegal African refugees in Yemen has exceeded the one million mark.
There have been frequent reports of mistreatment, abuse, rape and torture and the increasingly cruel measures being adopted by smuggling rings seem to account for the increase in deaths at sea
Officials in Yemen say some African migrants have been using the country as a transit point to seek a better life in the neighbouring wealthy Gulf state of Saudi Arabia. But some of those migrants have fallen prey to human traffickers who seize and torture them until they can secure a ransom, according to local media reports.
Earlier this month, a local news site reported that police in the southern Lahj province stormed a detention centre for African migrants and released 23 refugees who had been tortured and kept hostage for weeks, to pressure relatives in Ethiopia to pay a high ransom.
Abd Rabbu Ghanem, the director of the Madharba district, told Aden al-Ghad that the African migrants were kept in sealed areas near Bab el-Mandeb Strait.
The captors, Yemenis and Africans, usually receive the new arrivals and pretend they will facilitate their trip to Saudi Arabia. Ghanem said the African captives were found shackled together with chains, and one of the captors was arrested.
In October, police in Haradh raided a house where five Ethiopian women were repeatedly tortured and used in the drug trade, according to the daily Yemen Today.
Two days later, police in western Hodeida province said they tracked a group of human traffickers who were holding African migrants in houses in the province.
“There have been frequent reports of mistreatment, abuse, rape and torture and the increasingly cruel measures being adopted by smuggling rings seem to account for the increase in deaths at sea,” Stanton said.