Yemen's first UN migrant repatriation flight leaves Sanaa airport

The UN has arranged the return of more than 1,800 migrants from Yemen this year

Pro-Houthi soldiers pass UN vehicles at Sanaa airport in June. A flight from the airport took 129 Ethiopian migrants home on Tuesday. EPA
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The UN has flown home 129 Ethiopian migrants who were stranded in Yemen in the first humanitarian repatriation flight from rebel-held Sanaa this year.

The UN's International Organisation for Migration (IOM) arranged the voluntary return of more than 1,800 mostly East African migrants from Yemen in 2022 — all from airports controlled by Yemen's internationally recognised government in Aden and Marib.

Many of the passengers flying from Sanaa to Addis Ababa on Tuesday were unaccompanied minors and people with medical conditions, the migration agency said on Tuesday.

The conflict in Yemen began in 2014 when Iran-backed Houthi rebel forces seized Sanaa.

A Saudi Arabia-led coalition including the UAE intervened the next year to try to restore the internationally recognised government to power.

About 43,000 migrants — mostly from East Africa — are thought to be stranded in Yemen, almost all arriving with the intention of travelling north to neighbouring Saudi Arabia.

Migrants are regularly killed in crossfire, detained or forcibly enlisted as fighters by Yemeni's warring factions.

The failure to extend Yemen's nationwide truce on October 2 has threatened to reignite the bloody civil war after a six-month cessation of front-line fighting.

The conflict, largely considered to be a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, has killed more than 150,000 people, according to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, creating one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises.

More than 40,000 migrants landed on Yemen’s shores this year so far, according to the IOM. A third of them are women and children.

Those arriving are mostly fleeing enduring conflicts, famine and authoritarian governments that have long gripped several countries across the Horn of Africa, including Somalia and Ethiopia.

Ethiopia has been rocked by conflict since November 2020, following a dispute between the Ethiopian government and the Tigrayan rebel forces over control of northern Tigray.

The majority of Yemen’s East African migrants first arrive in Djibouti before being packed into small boats by a network of people smugglers. In recent years, many have drowned trying to make the crossing, with rights groups accusing smugglers of throwing people overboard.

The UN agency said it plans to help a further 5,000 stranded migrants in Yemen voluntarily return home to three locations in the coming months.

AP contributed to this report

Updated: October 12, 2022, 9:35 AM