The U.N. refugee agency reports that Horn of Africa asylum seekers and migrants arriving in Yemen are being detained under horrific conditions by different armed groups and criminals profiting from the situation.
The agency says it is following the cases of some 100 Somali and Ethiopian migrants who arrived in Yemen recently and are being detained near Aden.
UNHCR spokesman William Spindler says the new arrivals may have broken immigration laws, which is not an unusual or worrisome development. What is of concern, he says, are the harsh conditions under which the refugees and migrants in detention are living.
"Reports of abuse inside detention facilities are numerous, with some new arrivals being subject to physical and sexual violence," said Spindler. "Survivors have described to UNHCR being shot at, regular beatings, rapes of adults and children, humiliations including forced nudity, being forced to witness summary executions, and denial of food.”
Spindler says there are an unknown number of other makeshift prisons in Yemen where people are kept in captivity, subject to brutality, and held either for ransom or extortion.
In the past, he says, those who arrived in Yemen would go to refugee camps where they would be screened and processed. But, with the collapse of law and order in the country, he says the situation has become more dangerous. He says many people — including armed groups, smugglers and criminals — are taking advantage of the refugees and migrants in terrible ways.
Since February, Spindler says the UNHCR has made numerous interventions on behalf of those held in detention.
He tells VOA these efforts are consistently frustrated because no one knows who is in command in this war-torn country.
“It is very chaotic and very difficult to really know who is really in control. As you know, the country is divided," said Spindler. "There are rival administrations…There is not a clear line of responsibility that we can directly go and appeal to the authorities…and we receive reports of people being held by smugglers and we have no access to these places.”
Yemen’s economy is in tatters and its health system in a state of collapse after three years of unabated war.
The UNHCR warns people not to undertake the perilous journey to Yemen. It says Somalis fleeing in search of asylum and Ethiopians seeking a better life risk drowning in the Gulf of Aden, while those who survive face abuse and exploitation.
Still, the agency says about 87,000 people arrived in Yemen last year and people are arriving at a similar rate this year as last.