The number of migrants arriving in Yemen is set to rise by 50% this year compared to 2017, with almost 150,000 risking the journey from the Horn of Africa to the Arabian Gulf, the UN migration agency said.
Joel Millman, spokesman for the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), said that meant there were more migrants on the route than the 107,000 who arrived in Europe this year from North Africa across the Mediterranean.
“This is an emergency, an event at least as big, and probably bigger, than some other large movements in the world today. I guess the exception would be Venezuela,” he told reporters, referring to the exodus of about three million people from crisis-hit Venezuela in recent years.
“Migrants reaching Yemen travel first by land, primarily through Djibouti and eventually undergo perilous boat journeys across the Gulf of Aden to Yemen, now one of the busiest maritime migration routes in the world,” Millman said.
An estimated 92% of migrants were Ethiopian and the rest were Somali with one in five minors, many unaccompanied.
Since the beginning of 2014, IOM recorded more than 700 deaths in the Gulf of Aden, with 156 drownings this year, but Millman said that was an under-estimate.
Many cases went unreported and people traffickers often forced migrants out of boats as soon as they came within sight of land with many drowning, he said.
“Only when those bodies are recovered do we even hear about it,” he added.
Millman said migrants were driven by drought and unemployment in the Horn of Africa and lured by wages in the Gulf.
In July this year a UN report said Saudi Arabia deported 10,000 Ethiopians a month after an amnesty for voluntary return ended in November 2017.
People smugglers used Yemen’s war to drum up business, claiming authorities were too preoccupied to monitor Yemen’s borders properly.
“Of course, once they get there, it is a different situation,” he said.
“There are minefields to cross there is gunfire, car crashes, all kinds of dangerous spots along the border. We’ve seen considerable fatalities over the last three years.”