"Transit in Hell"

A report documenting the horrifying violations against African migrants during their passage through Yemeni territories.

Monday, December 18, 2023
"Transit in Hell"

Yemen - Sana'a

Monday, December 18, 2023

In its statement accompanying the release of the 'Transit in Hell' report, issued today coinciding with the International Day for Migrants, documenting a fraction of the egregious violations against African migrants traversing Yemeni territory, Mwatana for Human Rights urged all parties engaged in the Yemeni conflict to immediately halt the targeting of African migrants' lives, cease violating their rights, and put an end to the assaults perpetrated by human trafficking and smuggling gangs in the regions under their control.

Mwatana's new report extensively details violations committed by all parties involved in the Yemen conflict against African migrants during their passage through Yemeni territories. These violations encompass killings, mutilation, arbitrary detentions, torture, and various other forms of inhumane and degrading treatments. They also involve forced disappearances, recruitment, sexual abuse and exploitation, forced deportations, and extortion. Implicated in these atrocities are a range of actors, including Saudi Border Guard Units, Saudi/UAE-led coalition forces, the Ansar Allah (Houthi) group, formations associated with the Southern Transitional Council, forces and entities of the internationally recognized government, as well as human trafficking and smuggling networks.

In its report titled 'Transit in Hell,' Mwatana meticulously examines 112 documented violations, with 88 incidents attributed to conflict-involved parties and 24 linked to human trafficking and smuggling gangs operating within these parties' controlled regions. Mwatana conducted interviews with 155 individuals, encompassing migrant victims, their relatives and friends, rescuers, healthcare workers, and eyewitnesses. The organization painstakingly traced these violations along the migrants' transit routes—spanning both land and sea—commencing from Yemeni maritime ports, traversing inland transit paths within Yemeni territories, and culminating at the Yemeni-Saudi border.

Radhya Al-Mutawakel, Chairperson of Mwatana for Human Rights, stated, " The appalling violations against African migrants are a disgrace, demanding urgent action from all parties involved. It's crucial that every party assumes the responsibility of safeguarding all African migrants navigating through Yemeni territories, refraining from violating their rights and dignity. Furthermore, as de facto authorities accountable for safeguarding civilians, including African migrants, in areas under their control, they must shoulder the responsibility for curbing the atrocities committed by human trafficking and smuggling gangs. This necessitates taking decisive measures to halt these gangs' activities and holding them accountable for their actions." Al-Mutawakel added, "The tragedy experienced by African migrants during their passage through Yemeni territories reflects the brutality of the conflict in Yemen, showcasing the most abhorrent facets of human degradation. It necessitates rigorous and genuine efforts to put an end to these violations, hold the perpetrators accountable, and seek justice for the victims."

 Mwatana for Human Rights emphasized that the plight of African migrants during their journey through Yemeni territories extends beyond the direct violations committed by conflicting parties and human trafficking gangs. In addition to these violations, migrants face various forms of suffering due to the closure and diversions of their routes as a result of armed conflict, the contamination of pathways with mines and explosives, and the geographical division of Yemen among multiple warring parties. Compounded by severe restrictions on accessing essential humanitarian aid necessary for survival, their journey involves trekking hundreds of kilometers, enduring shortages of supplies, water, and food. Stranded and unable to proceed to their destinations or return to their home countries, they find themselves at a standstill, facing daunting challenges.

Sammar Omar (pseudonym), a 20-year-old Ethiopian woman, shared her harrowing story with Mwatana: "I left my home country, Ethiopia, through the Bosaso port in Somalia on a sea journey that lasted 20 hours aboard one of the smugglers' boats. As soon as I reached the shores of Ras Al-Ara in Lahj Governorate (under the control of the Southern Transitional Council forces), I was abducted by smuggling gangs and held captive in a courtyard. There, I endured torture and various forms of sexual exploitation for five months. They extorted money from my family in Ethiopia in exchange for my release. After my family paid, they set me free. However, it was only days later, upon my arrival at a health center in Aden, that I discovered I was pregnant, unaware of the child's father. All I want now is to live safely and raise my child."

An Ethiopian survivor informed Mwatana, "We were at a migrant detention center housed in the Immigration and Passports building in Sana'a when the riot control forces affiliated with Ansar Allah (Houthis) arrived. They fired several projectiles from the upper windows of one of the wards within the detention center. Smoke billowed, explosions reverberated, and a fire erupted. We tried to flee, but the doors were locked. I could hear the explosions and the anguished cries of my friends, yet I couldn't help anyone."

 A 27-year-old Somali survivor recounted to Mwatana, "I was washing my clothes near the tent where I lived in the Al Thabit market in the Qatabir district of Saada Governorate when I heard gunfire, a sound we had become accustomed to, so I didn't pay much attention. About fifteen minutes later, a projectile fired by the Saudi border guards fell close to me, causing injuries to me, my friend, and an Ethiopian child who was with us. Despite the severity of my injury, I felt panic but no immediate pain. We were all bleeding severely, yet nobody helped or came close to us, fearing they might be targeted. After about an hour, a Yemeni man took us to the Republican Hospital in Saada, where we paid all the money we had for treatment. We were left with nothing."

On May 12, 2022, a group of Yemeni and Ethiopian migrant bodies were found piled up near an unofficial detention facility in southern Saudi Arabia. According to testimonies from witnesses who collected the bodies and spoke to Mwatana, the migrants had crossed the border from northern Yemen into the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia the previous day. As per a medical report by an independent autopsy team that examined the bodies of seven Yemenis discovered among the migrant corpses, two bodies had gunshot wounds, while the remaining five bodies showed signs of torture.

The doctor who examined the bodies of the seven Yemeni victims concluded, in a 14-page report, that they had endured 'severe external violence inflicted by a hard tool or devices.' The report noted 'evidence of vital and repeated injuries from electric shock, commonly seen in cases of death resulting from torture.' Moreover, two bodies exhibited gunshot wounds—one to the head and another on the right side of the body. Additionally, at least two individuals had experienced electric shock, while one had a 'laceration around the genital area resulting from binding with a compressive bandage.'

 In its statement, Mwatana for Human Rights highlighted that despite the ongoing rise in the number of migrants arriving in Yemen seeking residence or aiming to reach Gulf countries, primarily Saudi Arabia, the magnitude of their humanitarian suffering remains immense. However, international efforts to alleviate this suffering are alarmingly inadequate and fall short of addressing the magnitude of the migrants' tragedy, rendering their plight largely forgotten.

On International Migrants Day, Mwatana for Human Rights passionately appeals to all parties involved in conflicts, urging an immediate cessation of the targeting of African migrants in Yemen. It emphasizes the critical need to preserve their dignity and uphold their fundamental rights to safety, security, and life. These parties must ensure unfettered and consistent access for international agencies to migrant detention centers, facilitate unobstructed delivery of humanitarian aid to migrants, take decisive action to halt the operations of human trafficking and smuggling networks within their territories, and unequivocally honor their obligations under both international humanitarian law and human rights law.

Additionally, Mwatana for Human Rights urged the international community, encompassing relevant international agencies and organizations dedicated to migrant affairs, to escalate their endeavors in mitigating the plight of African migrants transiting through Yemen. Mwatana reiterated the urgent call for establishing an independent, transparent, and equitable mechanism to investigate civilian violations, encompassing African migrants. This framework aims to ensure accountability for offenders while providing redress and reparations for the victims.