Nearly 150,000 migrants arrive in war-torn Yemen

BEIRUT: A Lebanese protester holds up a picture of a malnourished child being weighed in Yemen, during a demonstration outside the Saudi embassy in the capital Beirut against the Saudi-led coalition's war in Yemen and the worsening humanitarian situation in the south Arabian country. _ AFP

GENEVA: The humanitarian crisis in Yemen, already the world's worst, will deteriorate in 2019, the UN said yesterday, warning that the number of people needing food aid is set to jump by four million. The grim forecast for the embattled country came as the United Nations humanitarian office OCHA released its projected needs assessments for next year. "The country with the biggest problem in 2019 is going to be Yemen," OCHA chief Mark Lowcock told reporters in Geneva. He said that in 2017, the UN was providing food assistance to three million people a month.

That figure rose to eight million per month this year and is expected to hit 12 million in 2019, Lowcock added. The crisis in Yemen spiraled after a Saudi-led coalition launched an offensive to support the government against Iran-backed Houthi rebels in March of 2015. The situation has worsened in recent months due to a broad economic collapse and rising violence in the rebel-held port of Hodeida, a crucial import hub for food and other basic supplies.

Lowcock said the UN is asking for $4 billion (3.5 billion euros) to help suffering Yemenis next year. Overall, 24 million people in Yemen-roughly 75 percent of the population-will need humanitarian assistance in 2019. Lowcock noted that the government will also need additional budget support from other countries to pay salaries and pensions in order to contain wider suffering. He indicated that some of Yemen's allies in the Gulf, notably Saudi Arabia have committed to continue helping finance the government.

The OCHA chief stressed however that the outlook for Yemen could improve if progress is made at UN-brokered peace talks, set to begin in Sweden this month. If the talks show results, "it is possible that we could find by the second half of the year that the extreme edge could get taken off the suffering of those people who have no form of income," Lowcock said, while noting that diplomatic gains were difficult to predict. "The appeal we are making is based on our assessment of what the situation will actually be, rather than wishful thinking about what we would all like it to be," he added.

150,000 migrants arrive

Meanwhile, a growing number of migrants are flocking to Yemen, even as its dire humanitarian crisis deepens, with nearly 150,000 expected to arrive in the war-ravaged country in 2018, the UN said yesterday. Yemen remains a major stop on the route for migrants from Africa to wealthy Gulf states, and smugglers are taking advantage of the chaos of the war to evade security checks, the International Organization for Migration said.

It forecast that migrant arrivals to Yemen would swell 50 percent this year compared to the some 100,000 people who arrived in the devastated country in 2017. "We are confident in forecasting migration arrivals to Yemen, a country at war, will reach about 150,000 people this year," IOM spokesman Joel Millman told reporters in Geneva. He described it as "extraordinary and alarming" that so many people were "crossing a dangerous war zone." Yemen's conflict, which erupted in late 2014, has brought the impoverished country to the brink of famine, and the UN has described Yemen as the world's worst humanitarian disaster.

But the country remains on an established route for migrants, who typically first travel by land through Djibouti before eventually undergoing perilous boat journeys across the Gulf of Aden to Yemen. From there, they usually try to make their way to other Gulf nations, often in search of work.

IOM estimated that around 92 percent of the migrants who have entered Yemen this year are Ethiopian, while the rest are from Somalia. About 20 percent of the migrants are minors, "and many of them are unaccompanied," Millman said. Asked why there would be such a big jump in numbers at a time when Yemen is spiralling ever deeper into despair, he said it appeared smugglers were actually using the conflict and violence "as marketing points".

Minefields and gunfire

Smugglers, he said, promise migrants an easy passage since the authorities are "way too preoccupied with the civil unrest... to properly monitor the borders." "Of course once they get there, it is a very different situation. There are minefields to cross, there are exchanges of gunfire," he said. IOM could not provide numbers on how many migrants have died trying to cross through Yemen, but Millman said 156 sea deaths had been confirmed this year on the various sea passages towards Yemen. "There is no question (the deaths) are underreported," he said.

Millman stressed that the migrant crisis in Yemen was "an emergency" on a scale that outpaces most large migrant movements in the world. For instance, he said, "the number 150,000 is considerably more, by tens of thousands, than the forecast for all seaborne irregular migration across the Mediterranean this year." In a bid to address the problem, IOM said it would be hosting a conference on Wednesday in Djibouti, bringing together seven countries-Djibouti, Egypt, Ethiopia, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Somalia and Yemen-aimed to "ensure urgent enhancements in the management of migratory flows to Yemen and the Gulf countries."- Agencies