COVID-19 increases risk of life for Ethiopian migrants stranded in Yemen

New Delhi (NVI): Tens of thousands of Ethiopian migrants stranded in war-torn Yemen are in fear for their lives as COVID-19 spreads throughout the country and life-saving aid is in short supply, International Organization for Migration (IOM) said.

These migrants face increasing dangers throughout Yemen — a major transit country on the Horn of Africa-Arabian Gulf migration route — without vital services or a means to return home.

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has led to a 90 per cent reduction in migrant arrivals in Yemen between February to June. In addition to this, the outbreak related restrictions have caused tens of thousands of Ethiopian migrants to be stranded on their journeys.

According to IOM’s report, at least 14,500 migrants today are estimated to be stranded in Yemen’s Aden, Marib, Lahj and Sa’ada governorates, due to the blocked route through the country migrants being forcibly transferred between governorates.

Yemen traditionally has been a country of transit for impoverished Ethiopians seeking work and a better life in Saudi Arabia.

“For nearly six years, Yemen has been an extremely unsafe place to be a migrant,” said Christa Rottensteiner, the International Organization for Migration’s (IOM) Chief of Mission in Yemen.

He further added, “COVID-19 has made this situation worse – migrants are scapegoated as carriers of the virus and, as a result, suffer exclusion and violence.”

Most of the stranded Ethiopians are sleeping in the open or in unsafe, abandoned buildings. That puts them at greater risk of exposure to COVID-19.

Furthermore, as a reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic, migrants in Yemen have been experiencing verbal and physical harassment, increased detention, movement restrictions as well as forced movements to areas far from main urban centres or services.

Aid agencies like IOM are providing assistance to the stranded migrants, but major funding shortages jeopardize the response, putting lives at risk.

Earlier in 2020, IOM launched an appeal for USD 155 million to support over 5.3 million people by the end of the year. Without urgent funds, over 2.5 million displaced Yemenis and migrants will be left alone to face the devastating fall out of nearly six years of conflict and the worsening COVID-19 outbreak.

So far, more than 1,460 cases of coronavirus, including 418 deaths have been reported in Yemen.