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African migrants in Yemen tell of kidnaps and torture

posted 18 Mar 2012, 11:33 by Sam Mbale   [ updated 18 Mar 2012, 11:34 ]

Migrants from the Horn of Africa suffer at the hands of kidnappers on Yemen's border with Saudi Arabia.

HARADH, YEMEN (REUTERS) - Criminals seeking to extort ransom money have been holding and torturing African migrants, many from Ethiopia, at a Yemeni town close to the border with Saudi Arabia, local media has reported recently.

Migrants suffering from broken limbs, gunshot wounds and other signs of maltreatment have been arriving at a transit centre run by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) at Haradh.

"We have seen cases with broken limbs. We have seen female cases who have been assaulted sexually. We have seen children who have been assaulted, tortured physically, emotionally and mentally. The situation is terrible," IOM spokeswoman Lilian Ambuso said.

The migrants who come to Haradh are hoping to travel on to Arab Gulf countries. But in many cases Saudi authorities will not let them cross the border, or in other cases migrants are expelled from Saudi Arabia and arrive back in Haradh.

Stuck in Haradh they become easy prey for kidnappers.

Tamam Mohamed Bamelki, a migrant from Ethiopia, who had lost an eye, described how he was beaten up by kidnappers who wanted him to pay them ransom money.

"I went to Saudi Arabia, and they (the authorities) captured me and sent me back to Yemen, and traffickers here held me and demanded that I make a transfer for them from Ethiopia or Saudi Arabia, otherwise I would get killed. Then they beat me until I fainted," Bamelki said.

Another African migrant, Shishai Wilda Gabrai, said her relatives had to pay 2,000 Saudi riyals (533 U.S. dollars) to secure her release from her captors.

"When the Saudis sent me back, the traffickers captured me and held me until my relatives made a transfer of 2,000 riyals," said Bagrai.

Migrant Kamal Mohamad Ahmed gave details of his treatment at the hands of his torturers.

"They held me and hung me up from my hand and hit me on my arm until they broke it," he, pointing to a scar on his upper arm.

Issa al-Rajhi, head of the Economic and Development Foundation in Yemen, said information gathered had indicated that many of the kidnappers and torturers are Somalis and Ethiopians working in cooperation with Yemenis and Saudi nationals.

"According to the information we have there are persons (traffickers) of the same nationalities - Somalis and Ethiopians - and they are the ones who torture these people (migrants) in cooperation with Yemenis. And we consider this an international operation in which Saudi, Yemeni and African traffickers are involved," al-Rajhi said.

Berhane Yaklu-Nagga, who runs the local United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) office in Haradh, said local police had freed 500 people who had been held captive locally. He said authorities did not know how many people were being held captive all in all.

"Sometimes (they) hold them against their will. That what happens on the ground we know little, but what happens behind their walls, we don't know how many people are being held. Just last week, the local authority, in cooperation with police, they released over 500 from that houses," Yaklu-Nagga said.

The IOM transit centre in Haradh provides accommodation and limited medical and psychological assistance for migrants. It is stretched to capacity, housing 400 migrants.

Yemen has long been a staging post for migrants from the Horn of Africa bound for the Gulf States and beyond.

A total of 103,154 new arrivals were registered in 2011, double the number of the previous year. In February alone, approximately 12,454 new arrivals were registered, of whom 10,496 were from Ethiopia.

The majority of the migrants arriving in the border town of Haradh are exhausted by their long trek north towards Saudi Arabia after having survived the perils of their journey across the Horn of Africa, the Gulf of Aden or the Red Sea and a conflict-ridden Yemen.

Unable to continue their journey into the Gulf countries due to tightened border controls by the Saudi authorities or to return home without any resources, migrants arriving from the Horn frequently find themselves stranded in Haradh without adequate food, shelter and water and are dependent on humanitarian assistance.