Covid vaccination drive aims to protect migrants stuck in Yemen

An estimated 36,000 migrants have been stranded on their journeys across the troubled country because of coronavirus restrictions

Thousands of migrants trying to make their way through Yemen from the Horn of Africa are being vaccinated against Covid-19 by an international NGO.

The International Organisation for Migration (IMO) has resumed its inoculation campaign in the war-torn country, vaccinating the influx of people, who are predominantly from Ethiopia.

It aims to inoculate about 7,500 migrants who are scattered across southern and northern Yemen.

Migrants travel through Djibouti or Somalia to reach Yemen, hoping to eventually make it to Saudi Arabia for work.

Yehya Hayba (R) and his children, who fled fighting between Huthi rebels and the Saudi-backed government forces, stay at the al-Sumya camp for internally displaced persons (IDP) east of Marib city, the last remaining government stronghold in northern Yemen, on November 24, 2021. AFP

But an estimated 36,000 migrants have been stranded on their journeys across Yemen because of Covid restrictions, nearly 3,500 of them in the northern region of Marib.

Many are sleeping rough or in overcrowded and unsanitary accommodation where the virus can easily spread, the IOM said.

These migrants have been the target of verbal and physical harassment, increased detention, restrictions as well as forced movement to areas far from main urban centres or services.

This is in addition to the abuses many already endure at the hands of smugglers and traffickers – among them exploitation and torture, the IOM reported earlier.

More than 138,000 migrants arrived in Yemen in 2019 and 37,533 arrived in 2020. Just under 16,350 new migrant arrivals took place from January to September last year.

Avand Hasan, an IOM programme support officer, told The National the vaccination drive began at its centres in Aden and Marib on December 15.

Eighty migrants had been vaccinated as of 31 December.

The organisation is also supporting a Covid-19 vaccination campaign through its mobile medical teams, which are trying to reach people in 34 sites for internally displaced people.

The vaccines were received from Yemen's Ministry of Public Health, Mr Hasan said.

Vaccinating people in Yemen is more challenging than in any other country, Mr Hasan said, because of the compounding crises it faces. These include an economic downturn, continuous conflict and a collapsing health system.

“The challenges are even more substantial here to get the population inoculated,” he said

The IOM is working with partners and the health authorities in Yemen to raise awareness about the effectiveness and safety of the vaccine, and to co-ordinate vaccination activities at the organisation’s clinics.

Since last April, the IOM has been bolstering efforts by the Ministry of Health to vaccinate at-risk and hard-to-reach populations.

More than 5,300 Yemeni health workers, people with chronic illnesses, elderly citizens and humanitarian frontline workers were inoculated in the first phase of vaccination at five IOM-supported health centres in the provinces of Aden and Taez.

Updated: January 5th 2022, 10:48 AM