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Escalating violence against migrants on the Red Sea coast of Yemen

In March of 2012, Ethiopian asylum seekers released from captivity by Yemeni smugglers and traffickers operating along the Red Sea coast shared harrowing tales of torture at the hands of their captors. Najash Muse, a fifty five year old man broke down in front of the DRC Red Sea Protection team saying:

‘They beat me until I broke down and cried like a baby. They wanted my family to send them money yet I am poor and my family is relying on me to find work and support them.’

His body and spirit were clearly bruised but he held on to the dream of making it across to Saudi Arabia, where he could perhaps be gainfully employed so as to support his family left behind in east Hararge, Ethiopia. Amidst the tears, he sighed, ‘I did not think I would make it, but I am still alive.’ And indeed he was. Not all the Ethiopians who embarked with him on the sea journey from Obock, Djibouti to the Red Sea coast of Yemen on the 11th of March 2012 made it. According to Najash and other Ethiopian new arrivals that had been released after family members managed to pay the demanded ransoms, they had watched in horror as their captors blinded one of their compatriots. This was apparently done to coerce the captives to call their families and convince them to pay the demanded ransom of about 200 US dollars. Najash shivered as he remembered the man’s agonizing cries as he was blinded. Yet worse was to come.  Pausing in thought, with a far look in his eyes, Najash recalled:

‘They killed the man. He was an Oromo also from east Hararge. Every time I close my eyes, I hear him crying out, calling out to his mother. They killed him and threw away his body. At that moment, I believed that I too would be killed.’

Four days later, however, together with 14 other Ethiopians, he was released after their captors indicated that their families had paid their ransom. There are hundreds of similar stories shared by mixed migrants arriving at the Red Sea coast of Yemen. It seems that smugglers await them at the shore, forcefully whisking them away to unknown locations. There, they are subjected to sexual violence, torture, assault and robbery. In some unfortunate cases, migrants, arriving in Yemen with the dream of finally finding some safety, are reportedly killed. But even as severe violence continues to be meted out against the mixed migrants from the horn of Africa, they continue to arrive at the Red Sea coast of Yemen in great numbers. In April 2012, an estimated six thousand and eighty four (6,884) mixed migrants from the horn of Africa disembarked at the Red Sea coast. Of these, one thousand and thirty one (1031) were Somali, five thousand eight hundred and fifty two (5852) Ethiopian and one (1) was Djiboutian.

In conjunction with the UNHCR, DRC has embarked on undertaking information exchange sessions with local leaders and authorities residing along the Red Sea coast. These sessions will seek to underscore the communities’ perception of migrants while imparting knowledge on human rights and the tenets of International Protection. Through these sessions, it is hoped that there will be greater empathy for the plight of migrants and perhaps in turn, that this may lead to more humane treatment of migrants upon arrival at the Red Sea coast.

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