African refugees stuck in Saudi border
At these border crossings, particularly in Harad city, the African stowaways to Saudi Arabia have become easy prey for human trafficking gangs.
The gangs torture the refugees and make them call their relatives living in Saudi Arabia or in any other country to send them money.
The Ministry of Interior said last Thursday that a convoy of eight armed vehicles had stormed smugglers’ courtyards in the Harad directorate.
The raid resulted in the freeing of 89 African hostages, among whom there were 76 Somalis, a Nigerian man, six Nigerian women and six Sudanese. Five smugglers were captured in the security operation.
The Interior Ministry further added on its website that the investigation led to a deeper understanding of the refugees' suffering and more specifically how they were subject to extortion and blackmail by smugglers who forced them to call their relatives to send money.
A statement on the website said, "the security forces in coordination with prosecutors were able to storm into the house of the smugglers and capture three convicts accused of detaining Ethiopian stowaways. Two of the smugglers were found to have tortured the detainees with an electrical cable and iron chain.”
The Interior Ministry has detained the smugglers for investigation while keeping the African victims in the custody of directorate security. The Ministry last March discovered similar cases of torture against African people, when Yemeni security forces intercepted 345 stowaways from the Horn of Africa heading for Yemeni coasts. Among them were 95 women and 39 children. The refugees were gathered and sent to the main refugee camp in Kharaz, Lahaj province in the south of Yemen.
A report issued by the Interior Ministry in February said that 170 Africans had been detained, tortured and mistreated by criminals in Harad from January 2011 to February 2012.
The report stated that among the victims were 91 men, 10 women, 50 children and 19 senior citizens. According to the report, most of them had been tortured so severely that they suffered from sight and hearing deformities.
The Interior Ministry announced last February that Harad police officers had arrested two smuggling suspects. One of them admitted that he was detaining 49 Ethiopian immigrants and the second detaining 79 others. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) said last December that more than 65,000 Ethiopians had landed on Yemen’s coasts compared to 34,422 in 2010.
Data from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) indicate that 37,333 stowaways have already arrived to Yemen this year. 616 others either died or had gone missing en route.
Some refugees drowned and some women got lost near Yemeni coasts. Sibly, one of those who survived the nightmarish experience only to be caught by Yemeni forces in the courtyard of the Human Rights Ministry, said she sustains herself by dreaming of her final destination.
Despite the near exhaustion of finances, influential aid organizations are trying very hard to contain the humanitarian crisis. Medecins sans Frontiers (Doctors without Borders), for example, has opened a hospital for refugees which had previously been designated to internally displaced people. UNHCR has also appointed employees to handle the humanitarian crisis.
The IOM, along with UNHCR, has allocated considerable humanitarian funding and employees to facilitate Ethiopian repatriation for those who want to return home.
It is evident that the Saudi policy of turning a blind eye to the refugees on the border of its poor neighbor state will inevitably exacerbate the situation in Harad. The National Institute to Combat Human Trafficking said in one of its 2011 reports that there was widespread trafficking of people in Yemen by organized gangs trading in human organs and exploiting children and teenagers.
The organization put the responsibility of this snowballing illegal activity on the transitional government, at the same time asking the government to put an end to such widespread public crimes.
According to the organization’s reports, the African refugees being exploited in Yemen are forced to work very hard in return for low-wages, or are coerced through torture into calling their relatives and asking them for money.