Aden authorities request international help as over 3,500 migrants held

Police at one centre told The National they are trying to deport thousands of migrants who have entered Yemen illegally

African migrants receive food and water inside a football stadium in the Red Sea port city of Aden in Yemen, on April 23, 2019. In the southern city of Aden, bastion of the embattled Yemeni government, nearly 2,000 migrants -- mainly from Ethiopia -- have been rounded up by security and are now confined to a soccer stadium which fails to meet basic standards of health and safety, according to the UN migration agency (IOM).  / AFP / -
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Over the past three days, authorities in the Yemeni city of Aden have detained thousands of migrants, mostly from Ethiopia, who have entered the country illegally after receiving reports that some had been fighting alongside rebel Houthi militias.

At the largest detention centre, authorities have detained about 3,500 people in a communal hall on May 22 Square in Aden since Wednesday. Yemeni sources have said as many as 5,000 may have been detained in total in makeshift detention centres such as a local football stadium.

Roughly 3,500 people are being held in the communal hall on May 22 Square in Aden. Ali Mahmood for The National
Roughly 3,500 people are being held in the communal hall on May 22 Square in Aden. Ali Mahmood for The National

"We are facing a big problem that is occurring at a very critical time, hundreds of migrants enter the city of Aden every day," Captain Abdulrahman Al Nakeeb, spokesman for Aden police, told The National. "These migrants – who are mostly Ethiopians – enter by sea and gather in groups in the streets, in the public markets, near restaurants and started to enter the populated neighbourhoods, causing many problems for the residents," he said.

Thousands of migrants arrive in Yemen every year, mostly from the Horn of Africa, driven by drought and unemployment at home and lured by the wages available in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf.

He said that the most troubling issue had been reports from the front lines of Al Dhalea, where government forces backed by the Saudi-led international coalition are battling the Houthis, that a number of Ethiopian migrants had been fighting alongside the rebels.

“The Houthi rebels capture them while they trying to come the country to Saudi Arabia through Sada [province] and take them to training camps before sending them to fight along with their fighters or use them to plant explosive devices in the routes used by pro-government forces in Hodiedah or in the southern areas,”  Cpt Al Nakeeb said.

He called upon the international organisations that work with migrants to help the local authorities in Aden take those entering from Ethiopia without visas back to their country. He said that the authorities in Aden have been working hard to safely deport them, but the process has been difficult.

At the May 22 Square detention centre, Cpt Salah Al Kouni, the head of the police station of the local Al Memdarah area, said that 90 per cent of those being held were from Ethiopia and the rest from Somalia. “They told us they entered the country illegally to try to pass to Saudi Arabia to make a living,” he said.

Cpt Al Kouni said that 45 of the 3,500 detainees are women and added that conditions were grim.

“We struggle to provide them with food and water and we are watching them constantly to protect them because on Thursday a big fight flared up in the hall as the Christians provoked the Muslims so we separated them. Now the Muslims are all together in one hall and the Christians are in another hall,” he said.  The 45 women, he added, are held in a room nearby that has water, electricity and fans. “We tried to provide with all the basic needs,” Cpt Al Kouni said.

Many of the detained migrants are also suffering from illness with some diagnosed with Hepatitis-C, HIV and infectious skin diseases.

A source in the International Organisation for Migration in Aden told The National on condition of anonymity that the body has been struggling to provide the detained migrants with care and provisions such as food and water and sanitation.

“We provided them with food, water supplies and also we brought doctors to treat the sick ones,” the source said.

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said that the OIM is "deeply concerned" about the situation.