IOM Press Briefing Notes – 15 April 2011
IOM is resuming evacuations of irregular Ethiopian migrants stranded in Yemen in appalling conditions.
The operation, funded by the UN’s Humanitarian Response Fund in Addis Ababa, plans to help some 2,400 Ethiopians to return home in the coming weeks.
A first group of 120, including children and elderly people, are due to arrive in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, on commercial flights tomorrow, 16th April.
On arrival, the returnees will be taken to an IOM Reception Centre and provided with accommodation, reintegration assistance and where necessary, medical and psychosocial support. IOM is working together with UNICEF and other local partners to address the needs of children and the elderly.
IOM previously evacuated a total of 2,770 Ethiopian migrants stranded in northern Yemen between November and mid-February, when the operation had to stop due to lack of funds.
Since then, IOM has registered nearly 4,000 Ethiopian migrants at Haradh on the border with Saudi Arabia, where it has a centre which provides shelter for the vulnerable, many of whom are hungry and exhausted by their long trek to the north of the country.
Unable to continue their journey north due to tightened border controls by the Saudi authorities or to return home without any resources, migrants are frequently left stranded in Haradh without adequate food, shelter and water and many want to return home.
IOM staff at the Haradh centre report that the situation has deteriorated significantly in the past few months. Bodies of migrants who have died from hunger or been killed by smugglers have been thrown into the compound at night.
IOM is working closely with the Yemeni and Ethiopian governments to assist the migrants. A team of IOM doctors and government officials are currently in Haradh helping to prepare the migrants for their journey home.
The number of irregular migrants landing in Yemen from the Horn of Africa, mainly Ethiopians in search of work and some asylum-seekers from Somalia and elsewhere, has dramatically increased in recent months, as human smugglers take advantage of the political instability in the country.
About 7,000 Ethiopian irregular migrants arrived in Yemen in March, in addition to some 2,000 Somalis, bringing the total arrivals for the first quarter of 2011 to 21,500, according to UNHCR.
“The flow has reached unmanageable levels for a government already deeply stretched. It is doing what it can, but it no longer has the means to address this issue on its own and has asked IOM for help. It needs our support in its efforts to help migrants who continue to be abused by increasingly active human smugglers,” says IOM Yemen Chief of Mission Nicoletta Giordano.
According to Giordano, IOM has also observed growing numbers of unaccompanied minors among irregular migrants entering the country. Their testimony suggests that they are easy prey for criminal groups, and are often subject to physical and mental abuse, as well as labour exploitation. In some cases, family members in Ethiopia have been asked to pay ransom for their release.
“The situation in Haradh is increasingly desperate in terms of food and shelter and more and more people want to return home. Some have stoned the IOM centre out of sheer frustration. With the current political instability, the international humanitarian community needs to intervene. We urgently need international donors to support the centre, the work of our partners UNHCR and WFP, and to fund this return operation,” says Giordano.
Source: International Organization for Migration (IOM)
Date: 15 April 2011