Cairo: The UN returned 129 Ethiopian migrants stranded in war-torn Yemen to their homeland Tuesday in its first humanitarian repatriation flight to depart from the militia-held capital of Sana’a this year.
The United Nations’ International Organisation for Migration has facilitated the voluntary return of more than 1,800 mostly East African migrants from Yemen this year. However, all of 2022’s previous returnees flew from airports controlled by Yemen’s internationally recognised government in the cities of Aden and Marib.
The migration agency said in a news release on Tuesday that many of the passengers on the voluntary flight from Sana’a to Adis Ababa were unaccompanied minors and individuals with medical conditions.
Some 43,800 mostly East African migrants are thought to be stranded in Yemen. Virtually all arrived in the war-ravaged country intending to travel north to neighbouring Saudi Arabia, although few have completed the journey.
Yemen’s ruinous conflict began in 2014 when Iran-backed Houthi milita forces seized Sana’a. A Saudi Arabia-led Arab coalition intervened the next year to try to restore the internationally recognized government to power.
In trying to traverse the country, African migrants are regularly caught in the crossfire. They are often killed, detained or forcibly enlisted as fighters by Yemeni’s warring factions.
The failure to extend Yemen’s nationwide truce October 2 has threatened to reignite the bloody civil war after a six-month cessation of frontline fighting.
According to the IOM, more than 40,000 migrants landed on Yemen’s shores this year so far, a third of them women and children. Those arriving are mostly fleeing enduring conflicts, famine and authoritarian governments that have long gripped several countries across the Horn of Africa, including Somalia and Ethiopia.
Ethiopia has been rocked by conflict since November 2020, following a dispute between the Ethiopian government and the Tigrayan rebel forces over control of northern Tigray.
The majority of Yemen’s East African migrants first arrive in Djibouti before being packed into small boats by a network of people smugglers. In recent years, many have drowned trying to make the crossing, with rights groups accusing smugglers of throwing people overboard.
The UN agency said it plans to help a further 5,000 stranded migrants in Yemen voluntarily return home to three locations in the coming months.