Yemen has been in crisis since 2015, but this has not stopped Africans from packing their bags to go to the country.
Immigrants from Somalia, Ethiopia and Eritrea would rather brave the perilous journey to Yemen and other Middle Eastern countries than to stay at home.
The journey is usually so tough that the strip between the Horn of Africa and Arabian Peninsula, Bab el Mandeb, is called the ‘gateway of grief’.
There have been cases of boats capsizing: just recently a boat carrying at least 160 African migrants capsized off the southern province of Shabwa.
In other cases, illegal traffickers have thrown immigrants off boats to avoid capture by authorities. In one case at least 50 people drowned and 30 others went missing.
Afte the dangerous journey, the immigrants arrive to an even worse situation. They are subjected to torture, sexual assault and even murder. According to a Human Rights Watch report in April 2018, the Yemeni government detained these immigrants at the southern port city of Aden, where the officials beat them with steel bars, and steal their personal effects.
“Guards at the migrant detention centre in Aden have brutally beaten men, raped women and boys, and sent hundreds out to sea in overloaded boats. The crisis in Yemen provides zero justification for this cruelty and brutality, and the Yemeni government should put a stop to it and hold those responsible to account,” said Bill Frelick, refugee rights director at Human Rights Watch.
The immigrants complained of overcrowded facilities and lack of access to basic services including food and health care. Getting a proper picture os the situation has been difficult for rights groups as the Yemeni government has blocked them from accessing the immigrants in the detention centres and have guards around, making it difficult for the immigrants to safely explain the situation.
Escaping the inhumane conditions is also met with severe punishment. In 2017, 40 African immigrants were killed after a Yemeni helicopter attacked the boat they were in as they were trying to run away from Yemen.
The HRW report also said that Yemeni civilians would be allowed into the detention centre, where they would ask for money or call immigrants’ relatives to ask for money to ensure safe passage to Saudi Arabia.
More than 100 people whose relatives agreed to send money were eventually released, a third man said, with promises they would be taken to Saudi Arabia. He said an interpreter worked with the guards to take names, details, and negotiate payment between the migrants and the smugglers.
The release is not always assured and the freed refugees can be recaptured at a later date and brought back to the detention centre.
But why are Africans fleeing to Yemen?
According to reports, a number of the immigrants claim that they were running away from economic strife, tribal conflict, and al-Shabab for Somali immigrants. For Ethiopians, the declaration of emergency in 2016 forced many of them out of the country to look for greener pastures in Saudi Arabia via Yemen.
Although most of these Africans are aware of the conflict situation in Yemen, they think that it would not affect them. They believe that the absence of rule of law would make it easier for them to disembark and go through the country without interruption.
Rights groups want Yemen to be held responsible for the gross human rights violation of African immigrants and refugees. They are calling for the Yemeni government to improve conditions in detentions and investigate cases of violations and prosecute or appropriately discipline the perpetrators.