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Ethiopia, Somali migrants ensnared in Yemen's civil war

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Ethiopia

Mother-of-two Zoubiba Mohamed fled Ethiopia seeking a better life only to be ensnared by Yemen's bitter civil war, and now ekes out an existence in a squalid refugee camp.

She hoped to use Yemen as a stepping stone on her route to reach oil-rich Gulf nations, but like thousands of migrants, she became embroiled in its seven-year-old war between Huthi rebels and government forces.

"We have no life here," 34-year-old Mohamed said, showing her identification card issued by the UN's refugee agency UNHCR. "We are between life and death".

Despite the conflict, some 190,000 migrants -- many from war-ravaged nations in the Horn of Africa, including Ethiopia and Somalia -- are stuck in Yemen needing aid, according to the UN's International Organization for Migration (IOM).

"Tens of thousands... are stranded throughout the country -- unable to travel onward and unable to return home," IOM says.

Many did not realise the nightmare they would face when they crossed the Red Sea for Yemen, said Nadia Hardman, a refugee specialist from Human Rights Watch (HRW).

"Half of them do not know that the country is at war when they arrive," Hardman said.

"The passage is fraught with so many challenges along the way, lethal challenges. Not everyone makes it to the destination."

- Thousands keep coming -

Yet despite the fighting, Yemen remains a crossroads.

Nearly 6,000 migrants arrived in January alone, according to IOM figures, with some 85 percent Ethiopians, and the rest, Somalis.

From Yemen, travel north to Saudi Arabia is blocked.

The route crosses the frontline between the Iran-backed Huthis -- who seized the capital Sanaa and swathes of territory in 2014 -- and the Saudi-led military coalition that intervened to back the government in 2015.

Unable to travel further, Mohamed initially found work in Huthi-held Sanaa as a domestic help.

But she was forced to flee again after protesting about the deadly blaze that swept through a migrant detention centre in the capital that killed 44 people last year.

Hardman said some 40,000 migrants were forced out of Sanaa by the Huthis following the fire, and have been "abandoned".

Mohamed was one of them. She left her two children with a Yemeni family in Sanaa, and fled south to the government-controlled port city of Aden.

Along with hundreds of others, she lives at Aden's Khor Maksar camp underneath ragged sheets strung up on ropes, offering little respite from the blazing sun.

"There are rats, snakes and other animals here, we don't sleep at night," she said.

"We only eat if Yemenis help us, or if restaurants give us leftovers".

Alia Ibrahim, who is also stuck in Aden, said that at least in Sanaa the Ethiopian workers had their own bedrooms.

"Here we have nothing," she said.

- 'Filth and poverty' -

Across Yemen, hundreds of thousands have been killed, directly or indirectly by the war, which has left 80 percent of people dependent on food aid and pushed the country to the brink of famine.

At least four million Yemenis have been forced from their homes by the conflict, according to UNHCR.

Bezea Tedros Ibr, another Ethiopian woman in the camp, said it was clear how unwanted they were.

"For the past year we have been living in this filth and poverty," she said. "Even the animals do not want to stay here."

But many Ethiopians say they do not want to return home -- they want to travel on and find work.

Their own country is gripped by turmoil, especially those coming from Ethiopia's north, where there are widespread reports of atrocities in the conflict between government forces and Tigrayan rebels.

Hundreds of Ethiopians have been flown back from Yemen with IOM support in recent years, but some try the journey once again.

"Some still try to make the journey back, seeking access to a better life", Hardman said.

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