From Frying Pan to Fire

From Frying Pan to Fire

By Ahmed Nagi

Despite the catastrophic situation in Yemen, the flow of African migrants to the country fleeing violence or economic hardship at home continues. The number has been on the rise since the war began in 2015, and is higher than during the prewar years. Most of the migrants come from the Horn of Africa, and in 2018 alone their numbers jumped to 150,000, from 100,000 migrants in 2017.

Networks of traffickers have taken advantage of the lack of security measures along Yemen’s maritime borders to increase the transport of illegal migrants. The traffickers have become more organized on both the African and Yemeni sides, and dozens of migrants arrive in Yemen on a daily basis. The journey takes around eighteen to 24 hours depending on weather conditions and the state of the vessels. Due to competition among traffickers, the fees are very cheap. It costs between $170 and $200 to be taken to Yemen from Africa, and migrants can pay upon arrival. However, they are not allowed to go free until they pay the full amount due, otherwise they may be imprisoned in detention centers managed by the traffickers.   

Lower prices may be a key reason for why migrants choose to go to Yemen, as paying to migrate to Europe costs a great deal more money. The journey of most migrants begins in Somalia’s port city of Bosaso and carries them to Yemeni coastal areas mostly in Hadhramawt, Abyan, or Shabwa Governorates, most of which are tribal areas. Before the conflict there was another route, toward Yemen’s Mocha. But when the Yemeni conflict extended to western coastal areas, the traffickers had to reroute their ships because the western costal zones fell under the control of armed groups allied with the Saudi-led coalition. These groups sought to combat illegal migration and prevent migrants from moving toward the border with Saudi Arabia. 

Although traveling through sparsely inhabited tribal zones is difficult, as most of the journey takes place in the desert, migrants benefit in unexpected ways from this route. The tribes of Hadhramawt, Abyan, or Shabwa have traditions obliging them to offer food and accommodations to people passing through their areas. Furthermore, the road through these governorates is relatively safer than the one through more northerly areas where fighting is taking place.

Upon arrival in Yemen, most migrants do not immediately continue to their final destination. Instead, they often spend some time in the country to learn more about the trafficking routes. At the same time, they start working to earn more money to be able to pay for the rest of their passage inland, toward such places as Saudi Arabia or Oman. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), 99.9, percent of migrants tracked in Yemen in 2017 intended to go to Saudi Arabia. Although it is difficult for one to find work in Yemen, many of the migrants work for very low wages in farming or construction, where they can earn around $5 a day.

You can read the full opinion article at Carnegie Middle East Center here.

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