Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Migrant humanitarian crisis on Yemen-Saudi Arabia border

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) has announced a human rights crisis on the Yemen border with Saudi Arabia where up to 15,000 undocumented immigrants from the Horn of Africa (mostly Ethiopians & Somalis) to Saudi Arabia are stranded--unable to cross the border & unable to return home.The migration route crosses the Bab-el-Mandeb strait between the Horn of Africa & Yemen & travels by land to Saudi Arabia where they hope to find work in agriculture or domestic service. In 2003, Saudi Arabia began construction on a 10-ft high barrier wall of sandbags & concrete-filled pipelines with electronic surveillance equipment to keep migrants from crossing. When the government of Yemen disputed the wall, construction was stopped in 2004 but part of the settlement meant increased policing, harassment, & incarceration of African migrants by Yemen security forces. The scale of the migration is massive because the scale of exploitation & impoverishment in Ethiopia is massive: in 2011, 103,000 African migrants crossed to the border & just in February 2012, over 12,450 mostly Ethiopian migrants crossed. While the IOM (an intergovernmental agency that does more fund raising & policing of migrants than rescue) is making fund appeals for deportation flights from Yemen back to Ethiopia, many migrants are suffering from diarrheal diseases, malaria, respiratory infections, snake bites, & exposure from sleeping in the open. Many migrants are extorted for money, murdered, disappeared, raped. Others are suffering from broken limbs, gunshot wounds, & other signs of extreme violence & maltreatment attributed by officials to human smugglers & criminal gangs.  It is likely Yemen security forces are implicated in this violence against migrants to deter them & keep their end of the bargain with Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, the Saudi regime is negotiating with Ethiopia for 45,000 new maids, Ethiopia is pledging to help Saudi Arabia fill its labor needs, & also wooing Saudi investors for opportunities in Ethiopian agriculture & mining. Here migrants wait at an IOM transit center to be deported back to Ethiopia. (Photo by Khaled Abdullah)

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