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Detained African migrants stuck in limbo in wartime Yemen


Anxious and hungry, hundreds of African migrants lie cramped together on the ground of an open-air warehouse in the southern Yemeni port city of Aden.

Most are from desperately poor Horn of Africa countries and like tens of thousands each year, were willing to risk the treacherous journey through war-torn and impoverished Yemen.

They came to Yemen in the hope of finding work in wealthy Gulf Arab states. Instead the 600 or so men were caught and detained by the Yemeni authorities.

They await deportation and are prevented from leaving their makeshift jail by armed soldiers. Conditions at the warehouse are growing increasingly desperate.

Several days ago, authorities stopped handing out food and basic supplies.

“I came from Djibouti to work. They used to give us small amounts of food. If there is no food, we will die,” said one migrant who declined to give his name.

“If there is no solution, they will deport us to our countries or get us out of here”, the man added.

Yemen, the poorest country on the Arabian Peninsula, has long been a transit point for migrants and refugees from East Africa, many of whom are fleeing hunger and violence.

The route was unsafe long before Yemen descended into all-out war in 2015.

Khaled al-Elwany, a local official who until recently oversaw the deportation of migrants back to their home countries, says up to 15,000 migrants are arrested at city checkpoints each month.

“This is a shelter for illegal migrants and a deportation centre. We are currently holding 650 African migrants who came illegally to the Yemeni shores from Djibouti. They are temporarily detained until we deport them to where they came from. The Ministry of Interior stopped sending food supplies for three days now, for no reason at all,” he said.

Elwany says he was fired by the interior ministry for refusing to cooperate with a plan to relocate the centre.

A ministry official said the aim of the move to a new facility had been to improve conditions for the migrants while they await deportation.

“The minister of interior decided to move the centre to another location in Lahej governorate, under the supervision of the ministry. This centre will be suitable with more resources, as well as a new management that can run the place without the practices that (migrants) were subjected to in the previous centre. In addition, the previous centre does not belong to the ministry (of interior); it belongs to the Ministry of Fisheries and we were asked by the Ministry of Fisheries to give back the building,” said head of the public relations office at the ministry of interior, Brigadier-General Abdel Qawi Baesh.

Saudi Arabia and a coalition of mostly Gulf Arab allies are fighting to restore Yemen’s exiled government to power and roll back the Iran-aligned Houthi movement.

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