On March 17 an airstrike on a vessel carrying 140 passengers off the coast of Yemen killed at least 42 people. The majority of the passengers were Somalis and some of the victims carried official UNHCR protection documents. The attack illustrates an increasing risk for arrivals in Yemen – a traditional transit hub for mixed-migration.

In early February 2017 UNHCR launched an awareness campaign focusing on the dangers of crossing the Red Sea to Yemen in which they stated that they were “alarmed that so many people are heading to a country where the conflict is worsening, displacement is growing, and arrivals face a very uncertain future”. Concerns regarding human trafficking abuses were also raised by UNHCR.

Further, civilians in Yemen are being targeted indiscriminately, including in schools and hospitals, and a 2016 UN High Commissioner for Human Rights report made a series of serious allegations of violations of international humanitarian law by all parties. At the same time the humanitarian situation is degrading quickly; according to World Food Programme 72% of the population is in need of emergency aid and 17 million people are living with food insecurity.

In January 2017, Yemen was hosting approximately 2 million internally displaced persons and 280,000 refugees, 91% of whom are from Somalia. In 2016, as many as 117,000 refugees and migrants arrived in Yemen.  Yemen is also a “refugee-producing country”, with 182,000 individuals having fled to neighboring countries last year.

Despite the ongoing conflict and humanitarian crisis in Yemen, the awareness on the situation in the country remains relatively low among mixed migrants. It is reported that the boat attacked was approaching the coast of Yemen on its way to Sudan from where its passengers hoped to reach North Africa and eventually Europe.

Photo: Richard Messenger