Statement by IOM Director General António Vitorino on the Deadly Fire at a Migrant Holding Facility in Yemen


António Vitorino

I am deeply saddened by the deaths of dozens of migrants in a fire at an Immigration Nationality and Passport Agency holding facility in Sana’a, Yemen, last Sunday (07/03). 

Our thoughts are with the families of those who died, and the more than 170 injured survivors. 

Conditions in the holding facility, which was three times over-capacity, were inhumane and unsafe.   

IOM does not establish, manage or supervise detention centres in Yemen or anywhere else in the world. Our teams provided migrants essential services like food, health care and water they otherwise would not have received. 

In the aftermath of the fire, our teams were at the facility providing emergency health assistance and saving lives. IOM continues to support the survivors today, where access allows. 

The United Nations Network on Migration advocates that detention should be the measure of last resort in any context, and that governments take a human-rights-based approach to migrant detention. 

In March of last year, IOM joined other UN partners to urge the release of migrants held in cramped and unsanitary conditions in formal and informal places of detention in an effort to contain the spread of COVID-19. 

We continue to do so in Yemen, where the arbitrary arrest and forced movement of migrants has increased since the COVID-19 outbreak began. 

IOM has also been working with all concerned authorities to restart its Voluntary Humanitarian Return programme from Sana’a to Ethiopia, a lifeline for many stranded migrants in dangerous situations.  

We will continue advocating for migrants until they are afforded their basic rights to protection, freedom of movement and access to services.  

I am concerned that this is not the last tragedy that migrants will experience in Yemen if the international community does not come together in a renewed effort to lessen the dangers they face and increase the support they receive.