By Stephanie Nebehay and Katie Nguyen
LONDON/GENEVA (AlertNet) – More than 3,000 Ethiopian migrants who desperately want to go home have been stranded on the Yemeni-Saudi border in extremely difficult conditions for several months, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said on Tuesday.
The Ethiopians, who are stuck in the town of Haradh, have registered to go home but IOM, which helps with migrant returns and evacuations, does not have enough funds to assist them.
“On Monday, dozens of migrants vented their anger in front of the IOM departure centre in Haradh, demanding to be returned home to Ethiopia, resulting in the arrest of 13 people by authorities for inciting violence,” IOM spokesman Jean-Philippe Chauzy told reporters in Geneva.
One of the poorest Arab countries, Yemen hosts hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants from the Horn of Africa who risk dangerous sea crossings on what they see as a transit route to richer Gulf countries.
Many have been undeterred by months of pro-democracy protests in Yemen where battles raged on Tuesday between armed loyalists and forces opposed to President Ali Abdullah Saleh. At least 62 people have been killed since Sunday when anger boiled over at Saleh’s refusal to accept a mediated plan for him to step down.
IOM said most of the Ethiopians had arrived in Haradh hungry, ill or exhausted by their long trek towards Saudi Arabia.
Faced with tightened border controls by Saudi authorities, many find themselves stranded and dependent on humanitarian aid. In addition, the practice has been for Saudi Arabia to forcibly return some undocumented migrants to Yemen, Chauzy said.
“We are caught between a rock and a hard place,” he added. “The main stumbling block is we have run out of money.”
The agency has already evacuated thousands of migrants from Yemen but needs a further $2.5 million to carry on its programme.
Insecurity has made the situation worse with the airport road impassable and difficulties in scheduling flights out.
IOM has evacuated 5,000 migrants, the overwhelming majority of them Ethiopian, over the past 10 months from Yemen.
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva and Katie Nguyen in London)