International organization raises alarm over 'very grim' fate of migrants in Yemen
GENEVA - The plight of thousands of migrants stranded in Yemen after trying to reach Saudi Arabia and the Gulf has reached desperate proportions, the International Organization for Migration warned on Tuesday.
"The situation of migrants in Yemen is very grim," IOM spokesman Jumbe Omari Jumbe told reporters.
Yemen has seen a spike in the number of migrants and refugees from the Horn of Africa who risk their lives to cross the Red Sea in smugglers' boats only to find themselves blocked at the tightly-controlled Saudi border.
Numbers have doubled from around 53,000 in 2010 to over 107,000 last year. Ethiopians make up the overwhelming majority, but others hail from countries such as lawless Somalia and Eritrea.
"In Haradh town, which the migrants see as a gateway to Saudi Arabia and beyond, thousands of migrants roam the streets and sleep rough in the open with no money for food or medicine," Jumbe said.
"Many migrants visiting IOM's offices have been rescued from unscrupulous gangs of kidnappers, traffickers and smugglers and are injured, some with broken limbs. Criminal gangs are also reportedly trading in human organs," he added.
In addition, the hospital mortuary in the northern Yemen town of Haradh is now filled with the unclaimed bodies of migrants, he said.
Funding shortages have forced the IOM to curtail a programme providing free meals to stranded migrants in Haradh from 3,000 a day to just 300 -- with only women, the elderly and unaccompanied youngsters now receiving food.
The lack of cash has also forced the organisation to suspend a voluntary repatriation programme which provides migrants with flights home.
The IOM is also working in Ethiopia to try to discourage would-be migrants from making the Red Sea crossing.
"But people are desperate. And because of that desperation, people are sometimes willing to risk everything," Jumbe said.