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'Extraordinary and alarming': UN says 150,000 migrants will arrive in war-torn Yemen in 2018 Open in fullscreen

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'Extraordinary and alarming': UN says 150,000 migrants will arrive in war-torn Yemen in 2018

Yemen remains a major stop for migrants entering Gulf states [Getty]

Date of publication: 4 December, 2018

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Smugglers are taking advantage of the chaos of the war to evade border security checks, the International Organisation of Migration said.

Some 150,000 migrants are expected to arrive in Yemen, the UN said on Tuesday, warning the number of arrivals is increasing in the war-ravaged country as its dire humanitarian crisis deepens.

Yemen remains a major stop on the route for migrants from Africa to wealthy Gulf states, and smugglers are taking advantage of the chaos of the war to evade security checks, the International Organisation for Migration said.

It forecast that migrant arrivals to Yemen would swell 50 percent this year compared to the some 100,000 people who arrived in the devastated country in 2017.

"We are confident in forecasting migration arrivals to Yemen, a country at war, will reach about 150,000 people this year," IOM spokesman Joel Millman told reporters in Geneva.

He described it as "extraordinary and alarming" that so many people were "crossing a dangerous war zone."

Yemen's conflict, which erupted in late 2014, has brought the impoverished country to the brink of famine, and the UN has described Yemen as the world's worst humanitarian disaster

But the country remains on an established route for migrants, who typically first travel by land through Djibouti before eventually undergoing perilous boat journeys across the Gulf of Aden to Yemen.

From there, they usually try to make their way to other Gulf nations, often in search of work. 

IOM estimated that around 92 percent of the migrants who have entered Yemen this year are Ethiopian, while the rest are from Somalia.

About 20 percent of the migrants are minors, "and many of them are unaccompanied," Millman said.

Asked why there would be such a big jump in numbers at a time when Yemen is spiralling ever deeper into despair, he said it appeared smugglers were actually using the conflict and violence "as marketing points”.

Minefields and gunfire 

Smugglers, he said, promise migrants an easy passage since the authorities are "way too preoccupied with the civil unrest... to properly monitor the borders." 

"Of course once they get there, it is a very different situation. There are minefields to cross, there are exchanges of gunfire," he said.

IOM could not provide numbers on how many migrants have died trying to cross through Yemen, but Millman said 156 sea deaths had been confirmed this year on the various sea passages towards Yemen.

"There is no question (the deaths) are underreported," he said.

Millman stressed that the migrant crisis in Yemen was "an emergency" on a scale that outpaces most large migrant movements in the world. 

For instance, he said, "the number 150,000 is considerably more, by tens of thousands, than the forecast for all seaborne irregular migration across the Mediterranean this year."

In a bid to address the problem, IOM said it would be hosting a conference on Wednesday in Djibouti, bringing together seven countries - Djibouti, Egypt, Ethiopia, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Somalia and Yemen - aimed to "ensure urgent enhancements in the management of migratory flows to Yemen and the Gulf countries.”

Humanitarian crisis

The conflict in Yemen, which erupted in late 2014, has brought the impoverished country to brink of famine, and the UN has described Yemen as the world's worst humanitarian disaster. 

More than 10,000 people are said to have been killed since the Saudi-led pro-government coalition intervened in the conflict in early 2015, according to the World Health Organisation, although human rights groups are adamant that the actual toll is far higher.

The resulting humanitarian crisis, already the world's worst, will deteriorate in 2019, the UN said on Tuesday, warning that the number of people needing food aid is set to jump by four million. 

Overall, 24 million people in Yemen - roughly 75 percent of the population -  will need humanitarian assistance in 2019, UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock told reporters in Geneva. 

He said the dire figures underlined the importance of the planned peace talks in Sweden.

If the negotiations show results, "it is possible that we could find by the second half of the year that the extreme edge could get taken off the suffering of those people who have no form of income," he said.

International support for the new peace bid has been spurred by UN warnings that 14 million Yemenis are at risk of famine as the humanitarian situation deteriorates.

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