Yemen - Severe funding shortages have adversely affected IOM assistance to thousands of stranded and destitute undocumented Horn of Africa migrants in northern Yemen.
In January, IOM had to scale back free meals at its Migrant Response Centre (MRC) in the northern town of Haradh, from 3,000 meals a day to 300. Food is now only distributed to the most vulnerable – women, the elderly and unaccompanied minors.
Shelter capacity and medical referrals have also been also reduced, resulting in increased hardship and illnesses among the migrants. Currently, the Haradh hospital mortuary is filled with the unclaimed bodies of migrants.
In addition, IOM has suspended its voluntary repatriation programme because of the lack of funds. The last IOM-sponsored flight to carry migrants from Yemen was in September 2012, when 210 migrants were voluntarily repatriated to Ethiopia, following a US$ 2.1 million donation from the Netherlands government.
This happens at a time when the influx of migrants and refugees from the Horn of Africa has doubled from around 53,000 in 2010 to over 107,000 last year. Most new arrivals are Ethiopians - some 84,000 in 2012. Others are mainly Somalis and Eritreans.
In Haradh town, which the migrants see as a gateway to Saudi Arabia and beyond, thousands of migrants roam the streets and sleep rough in the open with no money for food or medicine. They include single women, unaccompanied minors, the elderly and the sick – most of whom are desperate to return home.
Many migrants visiting IOM’s have been rescued form unscrupulous gangs of kidnappers, traffickers and smugglers and are injured, some with broken limbs. Criminal gangs are also reportedly trading in human organs.
As a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention, Yemen provides a formal protection framework to refugees. However, irregular migrants have become progressively more vulnerable to abuse and extortion by smugglers and traffickers, as they try to reach the Arabian Gulf.
“I am very concerned with the protection situation for the large number of migrants stranded in Haradh. This extremely vulnerable group of people have been subjected to severe economic and sexual exploitation, and gross physical abuse. It is urgent that their plight be addressed,” said Trond Jensen, Head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) in Yemen.
IOM needs US$ 1.2 million to carry out the voluntary return of some 2,500 of the most vulnerable migrants.
A recent donation of US$1.4 million by the UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) and a contribution of food by the UN world Food Programme (WFP) will keep the MRC running for six months, but operations thereafter remain uncertain.
IOM set up the centre at the request of the Yemeni Government and UN partners in October 2010. Since then, close to 10,000 migrants have received voluntary return assistance and over 52,000 have been treated for health conditions mainly resulting from exposure to harsh environments and physical injuries. Around 3,000 migrants congregate at the centre daily.
Previous IOM Assisted Voluntary Return (AVR) programmes for Horn of Africa migrants have been funded by the governments of the Netherlands, Switzerland and the USA.
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