73 percent drop in migrants from Horn of Africa to Gulf countries via Yemen amid COVID-19

Map of the Horn of Africa
Map of the Horn of Africa

The number of migrants from the Horn of Africa travelling to the Gulf countries through Yemen fell 73 percent amid the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new study published by the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

The number, at 138,213 in 2019, dropped to 37,537 in 2020.

The findings “are significant,” especially because African migration through Yemen to the Gulf of Arabia has been high for the past four years, despite security risks in Yemen, which migrants from the region must cross to reach Saudi Arabia and beyond, the IOM said in the report, released on Wednesday.

Despite reduced arrivals in 2020, due in part to COVID-19 related restrictions, risks increased with more detention, exploitation and forced transfers, the agency said.

Forced returns from Saudi Arabia were also significantly reduced, from nearly 121,000 Ethiopian migrants in 2019 to 37,000 in 2020, the IOM said.

The organization said it is working with and supporting the eight member countries of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) to develop and implement integrated regional approaches to responding to the needs of migrants and other vulnerable mobile groups, trying to harness the benefits of migration but reduce the negative impacts of COVID-19.

IGAD groups Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, and Uganda.

The adverse impacts include millions of lost jobs and closed businesses and a decline in cash remittances sent from migrant workers abroad, which support millions across the region, the IOM said.

The World Bank projects that COVID-19 remittance flows to low- and middle-income countries will decline by around 14 percent by 2021 compared to pre-COVID-19 levels.

The fall in remittance is expected to have severe financial and social impacts on IGAD countries, including increased poverty and a reduction in access to basic services such as healthcare and education.

According to the IOM, migrants, including internally displaced people and refugees in the region, are also unable to access medical treatment for COVID-19 and personal protective equipment, in addition to being subject to such risks as discrimination, stigma and xenophobia.

COVID-19 border closures, which have left thousands of workers stranded, left many workers from the IGAD countries facing exploitation from people smugglers when trying to get home, the IOM report said. Enditem

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