UN flight from rebel-held Yemen capital returns 129 migrants

CAIRO (AP) — The U.N. returned 129 Ethiopian migrants stranded in war-torn Yemen to their homeland Tuesday in its first humanitarian repatriation flight to depart from the rebel-held capital of Sanaa this year.

The United Nations’ International Organization for Migration has facilitated the voluntary return of more than 1, 800 mostly East African migrants from Yemen this year. However, all of 2022’s previous returnees flew from airports controlled by Yemen’s internationally recognized government in the cities of Aden and Marib.

The migration agency said in a news release Tuesday that many of the passengers on the voluntary flight from Sanaa to Adis Ababa were unaccompanied minors and individuals with medical conditions.

Some 43,800 mostly East African migrants are thought to be stranded in Yemen. Virtually all arrived in the war-ravaged country intending to travel north to neighboring Saudi Arabia, although few have completed the journey.

Yemen’s ruinous conflict began in 2014 when Iran-backed Houthi rebel forces seized Sanaa. A Saudi Arabia-led coalition including the United Arab Emirates intervened the next year to try to restore the internationally recognized government to power.

In trying to traverse the country, African migrants are regularly caught in the crossfire. They are often killed, detained or forcibly enlisted as fighters by Yemeni’s warring factions.

The failure to extend Yemen’s nationwide truce Oct. 2 has threatened to reignite the bloody civil war after a six-month cessation of front-line fighting. The regional proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran has killed in excess of 150,000 people, according to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, turning Yemen into one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises.

According to the IOM, more than 40,000 migrants landed on Yemen’s shores this year so far, a third of them 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 U.N. agency said it plans to help a further 5,000 stranded migrants in Yemen voluntarily return home to three locations in the coming months.

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