Health Funding Shortages in Yemen Put Thousands of Migrants’ Lives at Risk

IOM mobile medical teams providing emergency health care for migrants in distress along the main routes in Yemen. Photo: IOM 2020 

IOM mobile medical teams providing emergency health care for migrants in destress along the main routes in Yemen. Photo: IOM 2020 

Aden – COVID-19 has greatly disrupted the journeys of migrants making their way to and through Yemen, where migrant arrivals have decreased by over 80 per cent since the onset of the pandemic. Mobility restrictions have also caused at least 14,500 migrants to become stranded across the country and left destitute in life-threatening conditions.  

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) is increasingly concerned about the serious impact that funding shortages could have on the ability of migrants to survive the looming famine and the ongoing pandemic. 

IOM's health programme in Yemen is underfunded by USD 30 million and, with such severe financial constraints, the Organization has been forced to refocus its programming and reduce assistance in certain locations. This reduction will be particularly hard felt in cities like Aden and Marib, which host thousands of migrants in dire need of support.  

Access to healthcare for migrants across the country is exceptionally limited, often with migrants only able to access support through humanitarian aid provided by agencies such as IOM. In Marib, 84 per cent of migrants currently do not have any access to health care. 

“Funding shortages have affected IOM assistance to both migrants and displaced people. Migrants are one of the most vulnerable groups in Yemen, but we are one of the few organizations supporting them,” said Christa Rottensteiner, IOM’s Chief of Mission in Yemen. 

“The limited support for migrants is extremely worrying. For some, the impact of the gaps in the response could be deadly.”  

These difficulties that migrants face in accessing health care are contextualized in a country where only 50 per cent of health facilities are fully functional and migrants are not entitled to free public health care.    

In addition to health care, migrants are in dire need of food, shelter and water. In Marib, 60 per cent of migrants do not have access to food. The situation has deteriorated so much that migrants are putting their lives back into the hands of smugglers who have abused, tortured and exploited them for support to get home to the Horn of Africa, including to Ethiopia and Somalia.  

Over 5,600 migrants have travelled by sea from Yemen to Djibouti since May, in a desperate attempt to get home. Some have tragically drowned on their journeys

“For nearly six years, Yemen has been an extremely unsafe place for migrants. Now, COVID-19 has made their situation worse, as migrants are scapegoated as carriers of the virus and most do not have access to basic assistance,” added Rottensteiner. 

“We hope the international community will step up and help us assist and protect migrants. We also need to ensure that all plans to respond to this crisis include migrants.”  

In Aden, IOM is working with the Government of Ethiopia to facilitate the safe voluntary return of stranded Ethiopian migrants. The Organization has registered over 3,800 migrants who wish to return home.  

Recently, with IOM support, a delegation from the Government of Ethiopia travelled to Aden to conduct nationality verifications, an important step to resume Voluntary Humanitarian Returns.  

While they wait to return, IOM distributes food vouchers to migrants and organizes cash-for-work activities, in collaboration with local communities, in addition to ongoing emergency assistance such as health services, hygiene kit distributions and protection referrals. 


Background on the Migration Route  

In 2019, over 138,000 migrants arrived in Yemen from the Horn of Africa, according to IOM’s Displacement Tracking Matrix (DTM).   

Migrants predominantly from Ethiopia travel through Djibouti or Somalia to reach Yemen, hoping to eventually make it to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) in search of work opportunities unavailable at home.   

The largest number of arrivals in 2019 were recorded in April (18,320) and May (18,904) — a time of the year when there are good sea conditions in the Gulf of Aden and a perceived higher level of charity due to Ramadan.  

In 2020, mobility restrictions due to COVID-19 have greatly slowed the number of migrants traveling to Yemen. The largest number of arrivals in 2020 were in January (11,101) and February (9,624). By April, there were only 1,725 migrant arrivals in Yemen while in May, 1,195 were recorded. This COVID-19 related decrease continued throughout the year into November when there were 1,340 arrivals (80% decrease from November 2019), bringing the total number of arrivals in 2020 to 35,500 (74% decrease from 2019). 

For more information, please contact Olivia Headon at IOM Yemen, Tel: +353833022648, WhatsApp: +967730552233, Email: