African migrants and asylum seekers in Yemen are subject to physical and sexual abuse in detention, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the UN refugee agency UNHCR.
HRW, in a statement, accused Yemeni government employees of “torturing, raping and executing” migrants and asylum seekers from the Horn of Africa in a detention centre in the port city of Aden as well as forcibly deporting them out to sea.
It said Yemen’s Interior Ministry responded to an HRW inquiry saying they dismissed the centre commander and transferred migrants to another location.
The group said in its statement the centre was under Yemeni state control, but migrants were arrested and taken there by forces backed by the United Arab Emirates (UAE), a major component of a Saudi-led coalition that intervened in Yemen’s civil war in 2015.
UAE officials and Yemeni officials in Aden did not immediately respond to Reuters’ requests for comment.
The Western-backed coalition has been fighting the Houthis in a three-year war to restore the internationally recognised government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi. His government has a presence in Aden, while Hadi lives in Saudi Arabia.
“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,” said Bill Frelick, refugee rights director at HRW, calling on government to hold those responsible to account.
HRW said the detention centre in Aden’s Buraika area had since early 2017 held several hundred Ethiopian, Somali and Eritrean migrants, asylum seekers and refugees, but only about 90 migrants remained, mostly Eritrean, as of this month.
In a separate report on Tuesday, UNHCR said it received reports of detention, abuse and forcible deportation of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants in Yemen, but did not specify where.
“Survivors have described to UNHCR being shot at, regular beatings, rapes of adults and children, humiliations including forced nudity, being forced to witness summary executions and denial of food,” it said.
It called on “state and non-state” actors effectively controlling detention facilities where new arrivals are held to ensure those detained are treated humanely.
HRW accused the armed Houthi movement that controls northern Yemen of arbitrarily detaining migrants in poor conditions and failing to provide access to asylum and protection procedures in the port city Hodeida.
Many migrants from poor Horn of Africa countries risk the hazardous journey through Yemen in the hope of finding work in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab states.