Key mixed migration characteristics
For some years Yemen has played an important part in the exodus of migrants from the Horn of Africa as a country of transit and destination for an increasing mixed migration flow from the region. Yemen also hosts a rising number of refugees from the Horn of Africa, predominantly Somalis who are granted refugee status on a prima facie basis.
Virtually all those arriving in Yemen in the flow of mixed migration have left from Djibouti, Somaliland and Puntand departure points controlled and facilitated by smugglers, and disembark on the shores of the Red Sea or Arabian Sea. As survival and livelihood conditions in Yemen have become progressively more difficult for refugees, asylum seekers and undocumented economic migrants, Yemen is increasingly being used as a transit country as people make their way north into Saudi Arabia for better opportunities. Many are unsuccessful and find themselves stranded in northern Yemen entirely without resources, unable to go forward into Saudi Arabia or return to Ethiopia.
The U.S. State Department Report on Trafficking in Persons 2011 classifies Yemen as a country of origin and, to a much lesser extent, a transit and destination country for men, women and children subjected to forced labour and sex trafficking. However, recent data collected by the Yemen Mixed Migration Task Force indicates that as a point of transit for trafficking and smuggling, Yemen does play an increasingly important role especially in the case of Ethiopian migrants and hence its role in this respect should not be underestimated. Since the beginning on the on-going political conflict in Yemen which began in 2010, Yemen has also experienced internal forced migration.
Most recent statistics
At over 100,000 individuals, the number of new mixed migration arrivals along Yemen’s shores in 2012 were exactly double those recorded in 2010 (53,000). In 2011 the total was 103,154. Approximately 78% of all new arrivals in 2012 were from Ethiopia while 22% were from Somalia. This represents a change from three or four years ago when the proportions were reversed. Furthermore, the Red Sea crossing from the Djiboutian coastline has become increasingly the route of choice as opposed to the Arabian Sea crossing from the Puntland/Somaliland coastline.
Refugees and Asylum-seekers in Yemen
Total refugee population hosted in Yemen = 242,002 of which;
Total Asylum Seekers in Yemen = 2,557
Total Yemeni refugees worldwide = 2,076
Total Yemeni Asylum Seekers worldwide = 627
Main drivers and motivation for migration
The dominant drivers causing Somalis and Ethiopians to move are insecurity and economic hardship in their countries of origin. Fear of war and persecution, escape from poverty and in particular, flight from drought in 2011 are the primary reasons for men, women and children to seek refuge and better opportunities in Yemen and beyond.In the case of Ethiopians, a significant proportion (Oromos predominantly) claim political persecution as the reason for their flight.
Despite the on-going political conflict in Yemen that started in March 2011, the mixed migration flow into the country continues and increases while the return of migrants from Yemen back to Somalia has been relatively low. Though Saudi Arabia - a popular country of secondary movement where migrants seek better livelihood opportunities – has tightened border controls and deported many back to Yemen, the flows continue to increase, offering perhaps an indication of the extreme situations the migrants have fled.
UNHCR reports which tell of the Yemeni refugees hosted in other countries and the U.S. Department of State Report on Trafficking in Persons 2011 indicate that there are a sizable number of Yemenis who voluntary join these migration ‘out’ flows and/or are trafficked. A large proportion of undocumented migrants in Saudi Arabia are Yemeni but no data has been collated to illustrate the scale of this exodus. With the total country population in 2011 estimated to be almost 25 million (UNDP; Human Development Report 2011) and a low poverty level index measured through the Human Development Index (score = 0462), ranked at 154 of 187 countries (UNDP 2011), it is not surprising that many Yemenis try to seek a better life elsewhere.
As a country of mixed migration origin
Although the figure provided by UNHCR for Yemeni refugees worldwide (see above) is fairly low, this does not account for those who are in irregular migrant situations. According to the U.S. State Department Report on Trafficking in Persons 2011, Yemeni is a source country. The recent (2011-2012) political crisis coupled with insecurity has contributed to a deteriorating humanitarian crisis that has forced most young men to migrate illegally to Saudi Arabia in search of work as day labourers where they constantly have to escape being pursued by the Saudi police. This is in addition to the annual and on-going irregular entry of many thousands of Yemenis into Saudi Arabia looking for work. Deportations back to Yemen are common. In many cases the deportees re-entre Saudi Arabia as soon as they are able.
As a country of mixed migration destination
Most migrants entering Yemen are escaping insecurity, lack of economic opportunities/basic necessities and drought (mainly in Somalia and Ethiopia). An unknown number, mainly non-Somalis, use Yemen as a transit point en-route to the Gulf States beyond and do not approach the authorities or UNHCR to seek asylum. If they did so, they would be required to undergo individual Refugee Status Determination - a process that has all but ceased due to the on-going conflict in Yemen - which many of them have previously failed and been rejected as asylum seekers (up to March 2010 many were arrested and / or deported to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia). In contrast, the majority of Somalis seek refuge upon arrival in Yemen as they are granted refugee status on a prima facie basis.
As a country of mixed migration transit
Mostly Ethiopian, but also many Somali, migrants attempt to use Yemen for transit to reach Saudi Arabia and other Gulf or Middle East countries. The majority of non-Somali/Ethiopian arrivals that are intercepted and interviewed on arrival in Yemen indicate that they have no intention of seeking refuge in the country, but are only passing through as they attempt to cross into the Gulf States beyond.
The fact that Saudi Arabia has tightened border controls and deported many back which has resulted in thousands (6,000-9,000 in 2011) stranded at the border town of Haradh, has done little to discourage the flow of those still hoping to make the crossing. There is no verifiable data to ascertain the percentage of ‘trapped’ migrants who fail to cross and those that are deported. Unscrupulous and criminal smugglers and human trafficking gangs are profiting from the desperation of the migrants.
Characteristics of migration (means and modes)
All the migrants arriving via the Red Sea or Arabian Sea routes travel by boat often after having been smuggled or, in some cases, trafficked from Djibouti, Somaliland and Puntland. To get to these points of departure, the migrants first journey on foot or by vehicle. Those using the Somaliland coast as a point of departure usually originate from South-Central Somali and, if they can afford it, sometimes fly to Somaliland primarily to avoid being detained and turned back at check points in Puntland and Somaliland.
Migrants that use Yemen as a transit point are sometimes collected by vehicle upon arrival in Yemen and driven to the border areas by smugglers where they attempt to cross in to the Gulf States, usually on foot. Others attempt to walk from the coast to major cities or the Saudi border in northern Yemen.
Risks and vulnerabilities of mixed migration in Yemen
For some years there have been reports of incidents of physical and sexual abuse of migrants during the sea journey and in some cases migrants have been thrown off the overcrowded boats and left to drown. In the last three years at least hundreds of people have been reported drowned or killed by smugglers. Upon arrival, some migrants report of being held hostage in Yemen by the smugglers demanding an extra payment/ransom. Equally there are reports of coercion, rape, murder, kidnapping, extortion and physical assault. Perpetrators are normally the smugglers (or traffickers) but have also included state officials and members of village communities. Since the beginning of 2012, cases of migrants being thrown off the boat and left to die has declined. While at the same time the reported number of migrants being ‘sold’ to kidnappers has risen.
Since 2012 the cases of migrants drowning while at Sea have significantly declined. The reasons for this decline may stem from the ongoing political crisis in Yemen that has made the country insecure subsequently allowing smugglers to disembark their clients at the coast without fear of being arrested by the Yemeni police who seem overwhelmed. There may be a case to argue that the change could be attributed to the rising cases of kidnapping of migrants for ransom, which makes them of more value alive.
National immigration laws and policies
Officially the Yemeni government has always had a tolerant and progressive attitude towards refugees, hosting a large Somali population. Currently this has been de-railed from by the on-going conflict in which both sides have accused the other of enlisting Somali refugees in the fighting.
The laws against trafficking in persons are to be found in the Yemeni Penal Code and the Child Rights Act. However, they do not explicitly prohibit debt bondage or other forms of forced labour and prostitution. According to the 2011 U.S. Department of State trafficking in Persons report, there are sources s that tell of hundreds of Yemenis still being sold or inherited as slaves, a practise that dates back centuries in the country’s history.
The focus of protecting and rehabilitating victims of trafficking and prostitution (forced or otherwise), is more on children and the government has established centers/half-way houses in this regard. In collaboration with the government of Saudi Arabia – where many Yemeni children are employed as casual labour and to an extent in the sex trade – the Yemeni authorities have made steps to stem the flow across their borders.
As an increasingly favoured country of transit, Yemen’s migrant population has grown in 2011. These people are in a vulnerable situation and are likely candidates for trafficking and further forced labour and prostitution. However, the government has taken no reported effective measures to address prostitution for commercial purposes in Yemen in the recent years nor tried to protect these migrants from being victimized.
Although the on-going conflict has hampered any attempts by the government in taking measures to combat trafficking in persons in the past year, in 2010 it launched an awareness raising campaign and designated certain government departments with the monitoring and investigating of the matter.
Yemeni laws are based on Islamic/Shari’a law and the Koran. It is the only country in the Arab Peninsula who is a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol.
International Legislation to which Yemen is a State Party
- 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees & its 1967 Protocol
- International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
- International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
- United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
- International Covenant on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women
- International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination
- Convention on the Rights of Children
- United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime (Yemen is a signatory but has yet to ratify the Convention & its Protocols relating to Smuggling and Trafficking)
- United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea
- International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea
Other sites offering comprehensive country profile information other than mixed migration
- Central Intelligence Agency (USA) World Factbook
- UNHCR Country Profile 2011
- UNHCR Yemen Fact Sheet
- U.S. Department of State Report Yemen - 2010
- Human Rights Watch Report Yemen - 2011
 UNHCR Statistical Online Population Database, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Data extracted: 06/01/2012.
 http://data.unhcr.org/horn-of-africa/regional.php Updated: 30/11/2011. This latest update would bring the total refugee population to an estimated 213,151 individuals.