Yemen, as you know doubt know, is currently in the midst of an awful civil war. The conflict began in March last year. Thousands have been killed in the fighting and hundreds of thousands displaced. Humanitarian conditions are abysmal. Hospitals are being bombed on a regular basis, access to food, water and medicine is in short supply thanks to blockades. UN-brokered peace talks are faltering, and there is no end in sight.

So it’s a wonder then, why anyone would opt to flee to Yemen last year? But according to the International Organization for Migration, some 92,000 people, mostly Ethiopians, migrated to Yemen in 2015. In fact, the number of people migrating to Yemen increased since the outbreak of conflict last year.

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What could account for this trend? Why in the world would people want to leave the relative safety of Ethiopia (which, though poor is not in the midst of any sort of armed conflict) for Yemen?

The International Organization for Migration offers a few theories. First, Yemen is not actually the final destination for these migrants. Rather, they are vying for Saudi Arabia or the wealthier emirates to find temporary work. Yemen is just a transit county. Since it’s just 30 kilometers from the port of Djibouti, it makes sense to cross the sea right there. By an large, these Ethiopian migrants plan on returning home after working for a few months or years.

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Second, the IOM says smuggling networks for either playing down the dangers of Yemen, or, in many cases, the migrants are simply unaware of the civil war. From the National: 

Between 30 and 50 Ethiopians leave northern Djibouti for Yemen every night, said Burhan Mohammad Abdul, the manager of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) office in the town of Obock in northern Djibouti.

“The problem with the migrants is that they’re not aware of this war going on in Yemen,” he said.

Even when they are told about the war, it usually does not help.

“Whatever we tell them, they think we are just telling them to stop them from going there,” said Mr Abdul. “They just listen to the smugglers.”

Nevertheless, landing in a war zone is dangerous. Boat accidents are common. But even if they make it Yemen, many are held for ransom or extorted by the very smugglers they’ve already paid. From VOA

From extensive interviews with returnees, the IOM has pieced together a disturbing picture of traffickers preying upon vulnerable migrants en route to Saudi Arabia in search of work.

IOM spokesman Joel Millman said some of the cases documented by aid workers are frightening.

“There appears to be militia activity or armed traffickers swapping groups of men back and forth, and charging what look to be growing ransoms – anywhere from 2,000 to 4,500 Saudi riyals, which is around $600 to $1,000 U.S. per person.  People being held, tortured and injured,” he said.

Millman said many of the Ethiopian migrants seeking assistance from the IOM have been wounded from airstrikes or shootings involving armed groups.  In some cases, he said, the traffickers themselves resort to violence against the men they kidnap on their way to Saudi Arabia.

The bottom line is that despite Yemen being a war zone, tens of thousands of Africans arrive there each year. Alas, so long as this civil war is raging, there is precious little the international community can do to ensure their safety.




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