African Refugees, Migrants Face Dangers in Yemen

16 July, 2015

The United Nations is telling refugees and immigrants from the Horn of Africa that they should not sail across the Red Sea to Yemen. The UN refugee agency says thousands of people are traveling to Yemen even though fighting in the country has made it a very dangerous place.

The United Nations reported this week that at least 1,670 civilians have been killed in Yemen since Saudi Arabia began its bombing campaign at the end of March. It said more than 3,800 others were wounded in that period.

Aid agencies say the increase in fighting has worsened the humanitarian situation in Yemen. They now say four out of five Yemenis -- 21 million out of 25 million people -- need assistance.

FILE - Women and children wait to fill buckets with water from a public tap amid an acute shortage of water, in Sana'a, Yemen, May 9, 2015. (AP Photo/Hani Mohammed)
FILE - Women and children wait to fill buckets with water from a public tap amid an acute shortage of water, in Sana'a, Yemen, May 9, 2015. (AP Photo/Hani Mohammed)

Yet the UN refugee agency reports that large numbers of Somalis and Ethiopians continue to arrive in Yemen. Ten thousand of the 37,000 who have traveled to Yemen this year have arrived since the end of March.

Johannes van der Klaauw is the UN refugee agency's representative in Yemen.

"People are either not informed -- particularly the migrants -- or they take the deliberate choice to still come to a country at war because the economic migrants amongst them are on their way to Saudi Arabia and it is the only way to get there. But, there are also still Somalis coming who still flee persecution in Somalia and say they are safer in Yemen notwithstanding the war than they would be staying back in Somalia."

Johanes Van der Klaauw says many of those who have recently arrived in Yemen may not understand the dangers they face in the country. That is why, he says, the UN and other groups have set up a mass information campaign in Somalia and Ethiopia to urge migrants and refugees not to come to Yemen.

About 240,000 Somali refugees and 10,000 migrants from Ethiopia, Eritrea, Syria, and Iraq now live in Yemen. Mr. van der Klauuw says 51,600 Yemenis, Somalis, Ethiopians and people from other countries have left Yemen over the past three-and-one-half months. He says most have fled to Djibouti, Somaliland, Puntland and Somalia. Others decided to go to Oman.

"The Somalis all self-evacuated. They at great risk go to the ports of Mokala, Hodeidah, Moka -- even Aden when it was possible. They organize their own departure. It is difficult for them to organize their trip. There is, of course, money involved."

He says those who have fled Yemen are not returning to their home countries. And, he says, the UN refugee agency is not assisting with these returns. But he says his agency and the International Organization for Migration are seeking to help these people better organize their departure.

He says disabled people, women with children, and older adults are especially helpless and in need of protection. He says he worries about what awaits them when they arrive in other countries.

I'm Jim Tedder.

Lisa Schlein reported this story from Geneva, Switzerland. George Grow adapted it for VOA Learning English. Christopher Jones-Cruise was the editor.


Words in This Story

Horn of Africa – n. an area of East Africa that includes Ethiopia and Somalia

migrants – n. people who flee or move from one place to another for economic reasons

deliberate – adj. doing something on purpose, with thought

persecution – n. treating someone badly because of their race or their political or religious beliefs

notwithstanding – v. offering resistance or opposition to something

self-evacuated – v. leaving on one's own without help from others

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