The lonely figures in the burning desert are some of the tens of thousands of East African migrants and refugees — mainly from Ethiopia and Somalia. They head north, braving the dangers of war-torn Yemen in search of a better life in Saudi Arabia. Some 38,000 landed in 2020, according to UN figures.
They arrive on Yemen's south coast in rickety boats from smuggling ports in Djibouti and Somalia before beginning the long and dangerous trek through the war-torn country. Many are detained and held for ransom as distant families in Africa scramble to wire funds for their release.
According to IOM, the number of people making the trip almost doubled between 2014 and 2019. Two years ago, 138,000 irregular migrants traveled from the Horn of Africa to Yemen. Even though pandemic-related concerns deterred many from making the trip in 2020, some 37,500 migrants still landed in Yemen last year. In addition, more than 32,000 migrants are stuck in Yemen. IOM's program to voluntarily return people, who have become stuck on the migrant trail, is further complicated by the ongoing border closures. The result is an intensifying and largely invisible humanitarian crisis in a country fraught with troubles—at least 19 million people in Yemen need humanitarian assistance, and 17 million are at risk of starvation.
Giles Clarke for UN/OCHA