June 16, 2024
Both the Yemeni authorities and the Houthis need to work with the United Nations refugee agency to establish a process that would allow African migrants to seek asylum or otherwise get needed protection

By Human Rights Watch Press
Published May 11, 2018

Men and boys from the Horn of Africa detained in the Buraika detention facility in Aden governorate, Yemen. © 2018 VICE News Tonight on HBOYemeni government officials have tortured, raped, and executed migrants and asylum seekers from the Horn of Africa in a detention centre in the southern port city of Aden.

The authorities have denied asylum seekers an opportunity to seek refugee protection and deported migrants en masse to dangerous conditions at sea, Human Rights Watch said on April 17, 2018.

The rights body quoted former detainees as having said that ‘guards beat them with steel bars and sticks, whipped them, kicked and punched them, threatened to kill or deport them, sexually assaulted them, and fatally shot at least two men’.

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Male guards, HRW said, ‘forced women to take off their abayas (full-length robes) and headscarves. They took migrants’ money, personal belongings, and documents provided by the United Nations refugee agency’.

“Guards at the migrant detention center in Aden have brutally beaten men, raped women and boys, and sent hundreds out to sea in overloaded boats,” said Bill Frelick, refugee rights director at USA-based HRW. “The crisis in Yemen provides zero justification for this cruelty and brutality, and the Yemeni government should put a stop to it and hold those responsible to account.”

Buraika detention facility for migrants in Aden governorate, Yemen. © 2018 VICE News Tonight on HBOThe migrant detention centre in Buraika district is a converted marine science research centre that has since 2017 held Ethiopian, Somali, and Eritrean migrants, asylum seekers, and refugees, though as of April 2018, only about 90, primarily Eritrean, migrants remained.

Yemeni officials have not given asylum seekers any opportunity to seek protection or otherwise challenge their deportation, former detainees said. The former head of the center told VICE News Tonight on HBO that he used smugglers to return migrants to Djibouti, claiming he deported between 500 to 700 migrants a month this way: “And all the trips that we did are by the ministry’s instructions. No, [the interior minister] doesn’t ask us to contact the smuggler, but we return them in the same way they came in… They smuggled them in, they should smuggle them out.”

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Yemeni authorities have prevented international humanitarian organisations that have visited the centre from examining migrants with serious injuries, former detainees said. Guards remained near visiting aid workers, making it impossible for detainees to safely report on conditions.

Both the Yemeni authorities and the Houthis need to work with the United Nations refugee agency to establish a process that would allow African migrants to seek asylum or otherwise get needed protectionYemen’s Interior Ministry, in response to the Human Rights Watch preliminary findings, wrote in an April 2 letter that they had removed the centre’s commander and begun procedures to transfer the migrants to another location, and promised to investigate complaints or evidence of abuse. Two detainees said that after the commander’s removal, some of the worst abuses had stopped.

In early April, the center’s new authorities put the remaining Ethiopians – about 200 people – on trucks and transported them to Bab al-Mandab, on the coast about 150 kilometers from Aden, two witnesses said. Guards sent one boat of about 100 Ethiopians out to sea. The engine of a second boat was not working, so the guards forced the remaining Ethiopians into a large, guarded yard near the shore. After a day in the yard without food, some detainees managed to escape.

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The Houthi armed group, which controls the capital, Sanaa, and much of northern Yemen, has also arbitrarily detained migrants in poor conditions and failed to provide access to asylum and protection procedures in a facility near the western port of Hodeida, a former detainee and migrant community activists told Human Rights Watch. The former detainee said the conditions in Hodeida were “inhumane,” including overcrowding, lack of access to medical care, and physical abuse: “Some of the guards were very cruel and merciless. They used to beat us indiscriminately.”

“Both Yemeni authorities and the Houthis need to work with the United Nations refugee agency to establish a process that would allow African migrants to seek asylum or otherwise get needed protection,” Frelick said. “The horrific mistreatment of these vulnerable people only brings Yemeni leaders, whether from the government or the Houthis, into global disrepute.”

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