Horrifying Conditions Await African Migrants in Yemen, HRW Report Finds

A Human Rights Watch report found that Yemeni government officials have tortured, raped, and executed migrants and asylum seekers from the Horn of Africa in a detention center in Aden. After interviewing eight Ethiopian migrants, as well as government personnel and members of the migrant community, HRW heard testimonies of the horrifying conditions migrants experienced at the detention center in Buraika, a neighborhood in Aden. Former detainees attested that they had witnessed — or experienced firsthand — abuse, beatings, threats, and sexual assaults, and had seen guards fatally shoot two men. Additional video and photographic evidence revealed how hundreds of men, women, and children have been contained in the overcrowded concrete facility. Former detainees described dire conditions, with limited access to food and medical care. While the detention facility is under the control of the Yemeni government, HRW found that the UAE is also involved: UAE-backed Security Belt forces played a role in arresting and transporting migrants to the center, which was receiving some support from the coalition, a claim that the former commander of the center, Colonel Khalid al-Alwan, denied.

Throughout Yemen, reports have shown the rampant mistreatment and abuse of African migrants arriving in the country. The Houthis have also arbitrarily detained migrants in poor conditions in Hudaydah, HRW said. A former detainee in the Hudaydah center described the conditions there as “inhumane” with overcrowding, lack of medical care, and abuse. “Both the Yemeni authorities and the Houthis need to work with the United Nations refugee agency to establish a process that would allow African migrants to seek asylum or otherwise get needed protection,” Bill Frelick, refugee rights director at HRW, said. “The horrific mistreatment of these vulnerable people only brings Yemeni leaders, whether from the government or the Houthis, into global disrepute.”

Many migrants from the Horn of Africa are fleeing harmful economic and political conditions, using Yemen as a transit point en route to rich countries in the region such as Saudi Arabia, where up to 500,000 Ethiopians live and work. The International Organization for Migration found that more than 50,000 migrants from Somalia and Ethiopia traveled to Yemen between January and August 2017. These vulnerable people arriving in Yemen are at the whim of Yemeni security personnel, a power dynamic that has been exploited with impunity. Human Rights Watch calls for the Yemeni government and Houthi authorities to work with UNHCR and other international organizations to bring detention centers in line with international standards, ensuring migrants and asylum seekers are treated with dignity and respect.