The UN migration agency has urged rebels who control the Yemeni capital Sanaa to provide access to dozens of African migrants who were seriously injured in a weekend hostel fire.
The Sunday blaze at an overcrowded holding facility in Sanaa killed an unconfirmed number of migrants and injured more than 170, over half of them seriously, the International Organization for Migration said.
“As many migrants are in a critical condition, meeting their health needs must be an urgent priority,” IOM Middle East and North Africa director Carmela Godeau said in a statement Tuesday.
“We are facing challenges accessing the injured due to an increased security presence in the hospitals,” she said.
“Humanitarians and health workers must be given access to support the treatment of those affected by the fire.”
There has still been no word from the Huthi rebel authorities on what caused Sunday’s fire or how many people it killed.
The IOM said more than 350 migrants, most of them from Ethiopia, were in a hangar area where the fire broke out.
“While the cause of the fire is still unconfirmed, its impact is clearly horrific,” said Godeau.
Despite more than six years of devastating conflict in Yemen that have created what the UN describes as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, the impoverished country is still a magnet for migrants from the nearby Horn to Africa seeking a better life in neighbouring Saudi Arabia.
Restrictions on movement imposed during the coronavirus pandemic have led to a reduction in migrant arrivals from more than 138,000 in 2019 to just over 37,500 in 2020.
But they have also led to “thousands of migrants becoming stranded with little access to basic services or protection,” the IOM said.
It said it was working with Ethiopian authorities to restart a voluntary repatriation programme for stranded migrants.
More than 6,000 have registered to return home from Yemen’s government-held second city Aden, of whom a first 1,100 are are expected to leave in the coming weeks, the IOM said.
The United Nations appealed Wednesday for $100 million to help it boost support for refugees fleeing escalating conflicts and crises in Africa who embark on risky migration routes to Europe.
The UN refugee agency voiced deep concern over swelling displacement from conflicts in Africa’s Sahel region, as well as in the continent’s east.
This, it said, was driving more people to attempt deadly crossings of the Mediterranean Sea towards Europe, resulting in at least 1,064 deaths along the central and western crossing routes last year alone.
“UNHCR is seeking just over $100 million to enhance refugee protection in African countries en route to the Mediterranean,” the agency said in a statement.
“Offering safe and viable alternatives to the perilous journeys marred by abuse and deaths is the critical priority.”
Violence across the Sahel region, which stretches from Senegal through Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria, Chad and Sudan, has forced around 2.9 million people to flee their homes, according to UN figures.
“With no prospects for peace and stability in the region, further displacement is highly likely,” it warned, stressing that “many continue to attempt risky sea journeys to Europe.”
– ‘Alternatives’ –
Vincent Cochetel, UNHCR’s special envoy for the situation in the central Mediterranean, said the insecurity had already contributed to rising numbers of people trying to reach Europe.
“We would like to work more effectively on the alternatives to those dangerous journeys,” he told reporters.
Departures from Algeria, Tunisia and Libya soared by 141 percent last year, as nearly 71,000 people tried to cross the central Mediterranean route.
Only 36,000 made it across though — nearly all of them, more than 34,000, arriving in Italy, which saw arrivals balloon threefold from 2019.
At the same time, more than 23,000 people took the western route to the Canary Islands last year — up 753 percent from a year earlier.
UNHCR pointed to factors driving many to try to make their way towards the Mediterranean, including dire conditions in neighbouring countries where many had already attempted to seek shelter and the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
– ‘Harrowing’ –
The sea crossing itself is not the only dangerous part of the journey for many of the refugees and migrants trying to make their way to Europe.
“We hear harrowing firsthand accounts of brutality and abuses that refugees and migrants suffer along the routes towards the Mediterranean,” Cochetel said.
“Many fall prey to traffickers and smugglers and are abused, extorted, raped, and sometimes killed or left to die.”
UNHCR said that the money it was seeking was part of an updated strategy aimed at increasing outreach, identification and assistance to refugees along the migration routes.
“It is almost too late for us to intervene when people arrive in Libya or in the Western Sahara,” Cochetel said, insisting that investment in life-saving protection and support was needed “along the route, not only in coastal states.”
UNHCR also reiterated its call to countries to make it easier for refugees to move legally across borders, including through family reunification, to reduce their need to set off on dangerous land and sea journeys in the first place.
The UN agency has repeatedly lambasted countries which close their doors to desperate refugees and in particular European nations that have left migrants stranded at sea for long periods of time and supported repatriation to chaos-wracked Libya.
The UN Human Rights Committee meanwhile faulted Italy on Wednesday for failing to protect the lives of more than 200 migrants, including 60 children, who died in a 2013 shipwreck.
The case was brought by three Syrians and a Palestinian who survived the sinking of the ship, which was carrying more than 400 people.
The committee of independent experts said Italy had failed to respond promptly to a number of distress calls from the sinking boat.
More than 60 suspected undocumented migrants from Ethiopia were found dead on Tuesday in a cargo container in Mozambique’s northwest Tete province, a hospital official said.
“A truck transporting illegal immigrants from Malawi, suspected to be Ethiopians, was stopped at the Mussacana weight bridge in Tete, and 64 people were found dead. Only 14 survived,” the senior official, who asked not be named, told AFP.
Three African migrants, including one who is 15, were discovered squeezed inside compartments under car dashboards and behind seats at a border crossing from Morocco to Spain, police said on Monday.
Spanish police found a 15-year-old girl and two men aged 20 and 21, Friday morning when they searched three cars at the border between Morocco and the Spanish territory of Melilla, a spokesman for the Guardia Civil police force said.
Two migrants were found crammed inside tiny spaces installed under car dashboards while a third was hidden in a compartment behind the rear seat of one vehicle, a Guardia Civil statement said.
Two of the migrants required medical attention because they showed “symptoms of asphyxia, disorientation and generalised pain in the joints due to the horrible way in which they were traveling,” the statement added.
Police arrested the three drivers, all Moroccan men aged 19-31, on suspicion of people smuggling.
Border police also found a 20-year-old migrant on Friday hanging from the undercarriage of a truck at the border crossing.
Spain’s two North African enclaves, Melilla and Ceuta, have the European Union’s only land borders with Africa.
They are often used as entry points into Europe for African migrants, who usually either climb over border fences or try to swim along the coast.
Accused of dumping thousands of migrants at the border in the desert, Algeria has opened up the doors of its air-conditioned expulsion buses to try to allay criticism of its treatment of deportees.
With food-filled rest stops and nappies for the babies, the journey south for more than 350 migrants being sent out of Algeria stood in stark contrast to the reports of those who have come before them.
Rights groups have accused the Algerian authorities of arbitrarily arresting and deporting migrants from sub-Saharan Africa, sometimes abandoning them without water or food in the desert.
The government denies the allegations and invited the media on the trip of more than 2,000 kilometres (1,240 miles) from the outskirts of Algiers, where the more than 350 migrants arrested across northern Algeria were held.
The majority were Nigeriens, including women and children, while others said they were from Mali, Cameroon and Guinea.
“I don’t want to return to Niger,” said Abdelkader Adam, 56, who told AFP he had sent money to his family during the 14 months he worked in construction in Tizi Ouzou, 100 kilometres east of Algiers.
“I need to feed my two wives and my seven children who are there… I will do everything to come back to Algeria,” he said.
Travelling in a convoy of a dozen buses, the 27-hour journey to a transit centre included a stop where Red Cross volunteers distributed food and nappies.
Arriving at the brand-new centre at In Salah — which the authorities say cost $2.6 million — the migrants were served a sizeable dinner and given bottles of water and biscuits.
The expulsion process on show by the Algerian government aimed to counter what it has termed a “malicious campaign” by rights groups, which have expressed alarm at the treatment of migrants.
People interviewed by Human Rights Watch described being rounded up on the streets or at construction sites where they worked.
They accused the police of beatings and stealing their belongings and said they were driven to the border and forced to walk through the desert.
‘Emerging from the desert’
After resting overnight at In Salah, 1,300 kilometres from Algiers, the migrants being followed by the media continued their journey south to a centre at Tamanrasset, where a local official defended the government’s policy.
The latest convoy “is a strong message for those who question the reality of the efforts taken by Algeria to take responsibility for these migrants,” said prefect Djilali Doumi.
AFP was not authorised to continue south beyond Tamanrasset and observe the border crossing — the point at which international organisations claim migrants are forced to walk through the desert with sometimes-deadly consequences.
The United Nations migration agency said its officials have seen “migrants emerging from the desert in the thousands”, including pregnant women, at the Nigerien border town of Assamaka.
“IOM routinely sends search and rescue missions to pick up severely dehydrated and disoriented migrants who have been looking for shelter for days at a time,” the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said last week.
Algeria vehemently denies the accusations and the expulsion followed by AFP was also observed by representatives of the IOM and UNHCR refugee agency.
The IOM’s head of mission in Algeria, Pascal Reyntjens, welcomed the “coordination between all the people involved in the operation” to take care of “populations in distress”.
Algerian authorities said the group of 354 Nigeriens, including 197 children and 77 women, was taken across the border to Assamaka on Monday.
They were then transferred to the city of Agadez, under a deal with the Nigerien government.
Those of other nationalities had to be “released”, an official from Algeria’s interior ministry said without giving further details.
Algiers has claimed numerous sub-Saharan Africans are begging on the streets and more than 33,000 migrants have been repatriated since 2014, according to an Algerian official.
The IOM has reported a sharp rise in the number of migrants left to walk across the border between Algeria and Niger through the desert, up from 135 in May 2017 to 2,888 in April this year.
While many aim to return to Algeria, others hope to never see the frontier again.
Abdoulaye, a 19-year-old Malian, said during the journey south that he crossed the border a year ago and had to spend more than $1,000.
“In the end I’m back where I started,” he said. “It’s over. I’ll never come back here.”
In a park near Tel Aviv’s central bus station, dozens of African migrants waited for Israelis to offer them work, trying to eke out a living in a country where many want them to leave.
Only days before, a solution had been announced that would regularise the situation for many migrants and end the potential forced deportation of thousands of others.
But in a stunning turnaround on April 3, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cancelled the agreement with the UN refugee agency, bowing to pressure from his right-wing base to scrap the deal.
“I have no future,” Mohamed Idris, a 32-year-old from Sudan, said as he sat on the grass in the park hoping an Israeli contractor would come by and offer work.
“We do not know where the wind will blow us,” said Idris, who arrived in Israel six years ago and rents a room in Tel Aviv with four others.
Netanyahu’s reversal of an agreement that offered a solution for the mainly Sudanese and Eritrean migrants came as a surprise to many, coming only hours after he announced the deal in a televised speech.
But in doing so, many analysts saw Netanyahu — already under pressure over a string of graft probes — as giving in to demands from his traditional supporters and ministers in his right-wing government, including those who want to see all of the migrants expelled.
The presence of African migrants in Israel has become a political issue, and Netanyahu has repeatedly referred to them as “infiltrators”.
He was hit with an avalanche of criticism immediately after announcing the agreement with the UN, which would have allowed thousands of migrants to remain in Israel at least temporarily.
His reversal hours later was welcomed by some residents of south Tel Aviv, where many of the migrants also live.
“All should be deported. This is my opinion,” south Tel Aviv resident Meir Bachar said.
‘Colour of our skin’
“I don’t want to sound radical or as someone who discriminates. It’s not right to deport some of them and to leave others here.”
Other Israelis have opposed their deportation, including Holocaust survivors who say the country has a special duty to migrants.
A poll released in February showed nearly two-thirds of Jewish Israelis supported a government plan for deportations.
Jewish Israelis opposed to the presence of the migrants say they are only concerned about maintaining the Jewish character of the country.
Some also speak of the migrants bringing a different culture, while others allege they have brought the neighbourhood down, though the area near the bus station has long been economically depressed.
Since the arrival of the migrants, African shops and cafes have become common in the area.
Some of the migrants say they feel they are being targeted for racist reasons.
“They want to kick us out only because of the colour of our skin,” said Halofom Sultan, chairman of the Eritrean immigrant’s committee.
Netanyahu had worked out the agreement with the UN refugee agency because he said he had little choice.
Under a previous controversial plan announced in January, his government intended to give the migrants a choice between leaving voluntarily or facing indefinite imprisonment with eventually forced expulsion.
As the migrants could face danger or imprisonment if returned to their homelands, Israel offered to relocate them to an unnamed African country, later revealed to be Rwanda.
Rwanda, however, said it would not accept the deal.
The UN agreement provided a compromise by which a minimum of 16,250 migrants would be resettled in Western nations.
In exchange, Israel would grant temporary residency to one migrant for each one resettled elsewhere, bringing some certainty to their legal situation.
‘Then I ran away’
According to interior ministry figures, there are currently some 42,000 African migrants in Israel, half of them children, women or men with families who are not facing immediate deportation.
They began entering Israel in 2007, after perilous journeys that led them to what was then a porous Egyptian border.
The border has since been strengthened, all but ending illegal crossings.
With the UN deal now cancelled, Israel is still reportedly hoping to deport migrants to a third country — Uganda.
But Uganda has said it cannot accept migrants expelled involuntarily.
In her small apartment on a recent day, Yordonsh Tekla, a 28-year-old Eritrean, was cooking lunch to invite her friends for Easter. Pictures of Jesus hung on the wall.
“My husband came to Israel in 2010,” she said.
“After that the Eritrean authorities jailed me and my mother-in-law for one week… Then I ran away and arrived in Israel in 2011.”
Fredi Karabuskel, also from Eritrea, said he could not return home and did not want to be sent to an unfamiliar African nation.
“I really think people here are OK, but the prime minister hates black people,” he said.
The United Nations on Tuesday urged Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to “reconsider” a decision to scrap an agreement on resettling thousands of African migrants following tough domestic criticism.
“UNHCR notes the announcement of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu that he has cancelled the Israel-UNHCR agreement of April 2nd on solutions for Eritreans and Sudanese living in Israel,” a spokesman for the UN agency, William Spindler, told AFP in an email.
“We continue to believe in the need for a win-win agreement that can benefit Israel, the international community and people needing asylum and we hope that Israel will reconsider its decision soon.”
Hours after announcing the agreement himself in a televised address on Monday afternoon, Netanyahu changed course and cancelled it after facing pressure from his right-wing base.
The agreement was designed to end the possibility of forced deportations of thousands of migrants from Israel to Rwanda.
Under the agreement with the UN, a minimum of 16,250 migrants would have instead been resettled in Western nations.
In return, Israel would grant temporary residency to one migrant for each one resettled elsewhere.
The presence of the primarily Sudanese and Eritrean migrants in Israel has become a key political issue.
Netanyahu is already under heavy political pressure due to a string of graft probes.
Israel announced Monday it had reached a deal with the UN refugee agency to cancel a controversial plan to deport African migrants and replace it with a new one that will see thousands sent to Western countries.
A minimum of 16,250 migrants will be resettled in unspecified Western nations under the agreement announced in a statement from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office.
Netanyahu in January announced the implementation of a programme to remove migrants who entered illegally, giving them a choice between leaving voluntarily or facing indefinite imprisonment with eventually forced expulsion.
According to interior ministry figures, there are currently some 42,000 African migrants in Israel, half of them children, women or men with families, who are not facing immediate deportation.
They are mainly Sudanese and Eritrean.
As the migrants could face danger or imprisonment if returned to their homelands, Israel offered to relocate them to an unnamed African country, which deportees and aid workers said was Rwanda or Uganda.
The statement on Monday said the new plan meant there was no longer a need to send migrants to unnamed third countries.
The plans had drawn sharp criticism from the United Nations refugee agency as well as from some Israelis and rights activists.
The migrants’ presence in Israel has become a political issue, with Netanyahu referring to them as “not refugees but illegal infiltrators”.
Israel’s Supreme Court on Thursday suspended a controversial government plan to deport thousands of African migrants in response to a challenge from those opposed to the move.
The court said in its decision the state was given until March 26 to provide further information and the suspension on deporting them to a third country would remain in place until then.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in January announced the implementation of the programme to remove migrants who entered illegally, giving them a choice between leaving voluntarily or facing indefinite imprisonment with eventually forced expulsion.
According to interior ministry figures, there are currently some 42,000 African migrants in Israel, half of them children, women or men with families, who are not facing immediate deportation.
As the migrants could face danger or imprisonment if returned to their homelands, Israel is offering to relocate them to an unnamed African country, which deportees and aid workers say is Rwanda or Uganda.
Migrants began entering Israel through what was then a porous Egyptian border in 2007. The border has since been strengthened, all but ending illegal crossings.
Israel’s deportation or imprisonment plan has drawn criticism from the United Nations refugee agency as well as from some Israelis and rights activists.
Israel began warning thousands of African migrants on Sunday that they must leave by the end of March, officials said, under a plan that could see them jailed if they refuse.
On January 3, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced the implementation of a plan to deport about 38,000 migrants who had entered the country illegally, mainly Eritreans and Sudanese.
The controversial plan gives them until the end of next month to leave voluntarily or face jail and eventual expulsion.
Immigration authority spokeswoman Sabine Haddad told AFP that officials began issuing migrants letters on Sunday advising them that they had 60 days in which to leave the country voluntarily.
For now, the notices are being given only to men without families, officials said.
Israeli newspaper Haaretz said “anyone recognised as a victim of slavery or human trafficking, and those who had requested asylum by the end of 2017 but haven’t gotten a response” would also be exempt for now.
It added that this left the number subject to near-term deportation at “between 15,000 and 20,000 people”.
The authority is offering those who agree to leave a grant of $3,500, a flight ticket and help with obtaining travel documents.
Should they not leave by the deadline, the grant would be reduced and “enforcement measures” would be taken against them and anyone employing them, the authority says.
Israel refers to the tens of thousands of African migrants who entered the country illegally from neighbouring Egypt as “infiltrators”.
Israeli officials tacitly recognise that it is too dangerous to return Sudanese and Eritreans to their troubled homelands, but local media say the notices do not specify where departing migrants would be sent.
Aid workers and media have named Uganda and Rwanda, although both countries deny being a destination for migrants being expelled involuntarily.
Public opposition to the plan has been slow to build, but some Israeli airline pilots have reportedly said they will not fly forced deportees.
Academics have published a petition and Israeli Holocaust survivors wrote an open letter to Netanyahu last month pleading with him to reconsider.
The UN refugee agency has called on Israel to scrap the plan, calling it incoherent and unsafe.
A 2016 UN commission of inquiry into Eritrea’s regime found “widespread and systematic” crimes against humanity, and said an estimated 5,000 people flee the country each month.
The International Criminal Court has indicted Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir on charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide linked to his regime’s counter-insurgency tactics in the Darfur conflict.
Seven African migrants, some of whom “could be minors,” were found dead Monday as they tried to reach Lanzarote in Spain’s Canary Islands, authorities said.
Authorities found an inflatable boat off a beach with five bodies inside. Two migrants died after they got out while two others are in hospital in a “very serious” state, a spokesman for the Guardia Civil police force told AFP, though he did not know what the cause of death was.
A total of 34 migrants, including 20 children, have been found dead in Niger Republic’s vast desert, after being abandoned by their smuggler.
In a statement, the Government said that Agadez, which is in the landlocked country’s arid north, is a popular way-station for migrants attempting to traverse the Sahara Desert and reach Libya and eventually Europe.
The Interior Minister, Bazoum Mohammed, on Wednesday explained that the migrants had died of thirst. He stated that of the adult migrants, nine were women and five were men.
Two victims have been identified as Nigerian but the nationalities of the others were not yet clear.
Last year, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said that about 120,000 people crossed through Agadez.
However, IOM confirmed that 37 migrants died in the desert last year.