GENEVA - The International Organization for Migration said tens of thousands of Ethiopian migrants stranded in war-torn Yemen are in fear for their lives as COVID-19 spreads throughout the country and life-saving aid is in short supply.
More than 1,460 cases of coronavirus, including 418 deaths are reported in Yemen, but aid agencies believe the true number is much higher. As this deadly disease spreads widely throughout local communities, the U.N. migration agency warns thousands of Ethiopian migrants are at greater risk.
IOM spokesman Paul Dillon said migrants are subject to forcible relocation, arbitrary detention and abuse, as well as fear of falling sick and dying from COVID-19 with little prospect of receiving treatment.
“For nearly six years, Yemen has been an extremely unsafe place to be a migrant. COVID-19 has made this situation worse; migrants are scapegoated as carriers of the virus and as a result, suffer exclusion and violence,” Dillon said. “In addition to the forced removals, fears about COVID-19 have led to migrants in Yemen experiencing verbal and physical harassment, increased detention and movement restrictions.”
Yemen traditionally has been a country of transit for impoverished Ethiopians seeking work and a better life in Saudi Arabia. The International Organization for Migration said the number of migrant arrivals in Yemen has decreased by 90% in recent months because of COVID-19 related restrictions.
Dillon said most of the stranded Ethiopians are sleeping in the open or in unsafe, abandoned buildings. That puts them at greater risk of exposure to COVID-19. He told VOA access to the migrants has always been difficult in the conflict-ridden country. However, he notes COVID-19 is what he calls a new variable.
“We need to ensure that our protocols and our responses to people in need follow strict safety guidelines in order to protect our staff. Some of whom have become ill with COVID-19,” Dillon said. “Many of the people are in urban areas seeking out new places to sleep every night, moving from place to place and that can really challenge the ability to deliver support services to migrants.”
IOM spokesman Dillon said the migrants lack basic services including food, clean water and health care. He said his agency’s $155 million appeal to support more than 5.3 million people in Yemen this year is only half funded.
If the needed funds are not received, he warns millions of displaced Yemenis and migrants will be left to face the devastating and worsening crisis by themselves.