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Refugees, Migrants from Horn of Africa Flee to War-Torn Yemen

  • Lisa Schlein

FILE - Ethiopian migrants sleep out in the open near a transit center where they wait to be repatriated, in the western Yemeni town of Haradh, on the border with Saudi Arabia. The U.N. refugee agency reports nearly 106,000 people, mostly from Ethiopia and Somalia, have risked their lives on the high seas to reach Yemen in 2016.

FILE - Ethiopian migrants sleep out in the open near a transit center where they wait to be repatriated, in the western Yemeni town of Haradh, on the border with Saudi Arabia. The U.N. refugee agency reports nearly 106,000 people, mostly from Ethiopia and Somalia, have risked their lives on the high seas to reach Yemen in 2016.

The U.N. refugee agency reports thousands of refugees from the Horn of Africa, desperate to escape difficult conditions at home, continue to make the perilous journey across the Gulf of Aden to war-torn Yemen, despite the risks. At least 79 people have been reported dead or missing at sea this year.

The U.N. refugee agency reports nearly 106,000 people, mostly from Ethiopia and Somalia, have risked their lives on the high seas to reach Yemen so far this year. This is 13,000 more than all of 2015.

The UNHCR says many of them embark from coastal towns in Somalia and Djibouti and that they are ill-informed about the worsening conflict and deteriorating humanitarian conditions in Yemen. The agency says it plans to launch a regional information campaign in December to try to prevent the refugees and migrants from attempting the treacherous crossing.

UNHCR spokesman William Spindler told VOA such campaigns have limited success, but are useful in informing people about the dangers they can expect to encounter both at sea and after arriving in Yemen.

"At the same time, they cannot be expected to simply discourage people who are fleeing very difficult conditions at home - whether it is war, persecution, famine, or whatever. So, these campaigns are useful and necessary; but, they have to go hand in hand with improving conditions in the countries of origin, otherwise they will fail," he said.

Spindler said those who survive the risky journey face conflict, abuse and exploitation on arrival in Yemen.

"UNHCR has received reports of physical and sexual abuse, deprivation of food and water, abduction, extortion, torture and forced labor by smugglers and criminal networks as well as arbitrary arrest, detention and deportation. Prolonged conflict and insecurity have also facilitated the proliferation of trafficking and extortion networks targeting new arrivals," he said.

The UNHCR reports many of the migrants go to Yemen hoping to move on to Saudi Arabia in search of work. A few people, it says, reportedly have set their sights on reaching Europe, thereby compounding their risks. It says those people depart Yemen for Sudan and go by road to Libya or Egypt, where they make the dangerous Mediterranean Sea crossing to Europe.

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