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IOM calls for urgent humanitarian access to migrant survivors of deadly fire in Yemen
Dubai, March 9, 2021
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) today called for urgent humanitarian access to migrants injured in Sunday’s deadly fire at an immigration holding facility in Sana’a, Yemen.
The agency also called for the release of all migrants from detention in the country and a renewed commitment to providing safe, predictable movement options for migrants.
The total number of migrants who died in the fire at the Immigration, Passports and Naturalization Authority (IPNA) Immigration Holding Facility remains unconfirmed, as official records have yet to be released, a press release from IOM said.
More than 170 people have been treated for injuries, with many remaining in critical condition, it said.
IOM personnel were present at the site when the fire broke out in a hangar next to the main building. Nearly 900 migrants, predominantly Ethiopian, were in the overcrowded holding facility at the time of the fire. More than 350 were in the hangar area, the release said.
Teams of IOM health workers and ambulances, and over 23,000 medical items including intravenous fluid, trauma kits and other essentials, were immediately dispatched to the facility and to major hospitals to provide urgent life-saving assistance alongside the Ministry of Public Health and Population.
“While the cause of the fire is still unconfirmed, its impact is clearly horrific,” said Carmela Godeau, IOM’s Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa.
“Our thoughts are with the families of those affected and the community as a whole. Now, the migrant community in Sana’a needs to be given the space to respectfully mourn and bury their dead in a dignified manner. IOM and partners are standing ready to provide additional medical assistance and to support family tracing efforts for the dead and injured.”
“As many migrants are in a critical condition, meeting their health needs must be an urgent priority. We are facing challenges accessing the injured due to an increased security presence in the hospitals. Humanitarians and health workers must be given access to support the treatment of those affected by the fire and others who have been receiving long-term care from IOM and partners,” added Godeau.
Yemen remains a transit country for tens of thousands of migrants travelling between the Horn of Africa and Saudi Arabia. All people throughout Yemen, including migrants, should be afforded protection and safety, the responsibility for which lies with the authorities of the territory, the release said.
COVID-19 has led to increased mobility restrictions resulting in a reduction of the number of arrivals — from over 138,000 in 2019 to just over 37,500 in 2020 — and to thousands of migrants becoming stranded with little access to basic services or protection.
IOM has been working with the Government of Ethiopia to restart its Voluntary Humanitarian Return (VHR) programme to the country, which has been on hold since the start of the pandemic. So far in Aden alone, over 6,000 people have been registered to return; 1,100 are expected to do so in the coming weeks.
IOM has also been discussing the resumption of a humane voluntary returns process with the authorities in Sana’a.
At least 60 people were killed due to the fire, a Houthi official said on Tuesday.
The fire has also injured more than 100 people, Xinhua news agency quoted the official as saying to the media.
Overcrowding and chaos at the facility, in addition to the fire, caused heavy casualties, said the official, adding that victims included both African migrants and facility staff.
The Houthi group has formed a commission to investigate the incident, he said.
According to the official, the facility is for holding migrants who entered the country "illegally" before the procedure of deportation starts.
Yemen has been mired in civil war since late 2014 when Houthi rebels seized control of several northern provinces and forced the government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi out of Sanaa.
The Saudi-led coalition intervened in the Yemeni conflict in March 2015 to support Hadi's government.