Illegal immigrants from Ethiopia attempting to cross into Yemen smoke shisha in their makeshift shelter in Bosasso, northern…
FILE - Illegal immigrants from Ethiopia attempting to cross into Yemen smoke shisha in their makeshift shelter in Bosasso, northern Somalia's breakaway Puntland region, Apr. 14, 2015.

GENEVA - The International Organization for Migration reports despite Yemen's brutal civil war, tens of thousands of desperately poor Africans continue to cross the Gulf of Aden each year into the conflict-ridden country in hopes of reaching Saudi Arabia and finding work.  

Nearly five years of civil war in Yemen has killed thousands of civilians, shattered the economy and left millions of people on the verge of famine.  The United Nations considers Yemen the world’s worst humanitarian catastrophe.

Despite this disastrous situation, migrants from the Horn of Africa remain undeterred in their determination to reach Yemen and then to Saudi Arabia and a hoped-for better life.  

Last year, the International Organization for Migration reports more than 138,000 people crossed the Gulf of Aden to Yemen.  This is more than the 110,000 migrants and refugees who crossed the Mediterranean to reach Europe during the same period.

IOM spokesman Paul Dillon says most of the migrants making the dangerous journey to Yemen are Ethiopians from the rural Oromia, Amhara and Tigray regions.

“While tragedies along the Mediterranean routes are well documented, our staff bear witness daily to the abuse suffered by young people from the Horn of Africa at the hands of smugglers and traffickers exploiting their hopes for a better life," he said.  "Not only has migration along the Eastern Route not been reduced by years of conflict in Yemen, migrants appear undeterred by the Gulf’s strict immigration policies for undocumented migrants.”  

Dillon says most of the migrants are unaware of the dangers they will encounter in Yemen.  Besides conflict, he says they are at risk of being kidnapped and tortured for ransom and exploited and trafficked by criminals.

The IOM says establishment of legal pathways for migration offers the best and most effective way to protect migrants from abuse.  It says an agreement last year between Saudi Arabia and Ethiopia that allows 100,000 Ethiopian workers to travel legally to Saudi Arabia for work has been successful and the agency calls for it to be extended.