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Many feared dead in fire at Yemen migrant centre as UN demands humanitarian access

Vincent Wood
·3-min read
 (AP)
(AP)

A fire at a migrant detention centre in the Yemen’s largest city Sanaa is feared to have killed as many as 30 people and injured more than 170 others.

The cause of the fire at the detention centre, which occurred on the same day a Saudi-led coalition air strike damaged nearby buildings, was not immediately clear - the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said, adding that more than 90 wounded migrants had been left in a serious condition.

And although the official death toll stands at eight, UN officials have said they have been unable to verify the figure - with a IOM source cited by the BBC suggesting the tally could be closer to 30.

“While the cause of the fire is still unconfirmed, its impact is clearly horrific,” the agency’s regional director Carmela Godeau said.

“Our thoughts are with the families of those affected and the community as a whole. Now, the migrant community in Sanaa 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,”

The Centre is run by the Houthi rebels who have controlled the cityl since conflict erupted in the country more than six years ago. The rebels said civil defence teams managed to extinguish the fire and that investigations were ongoing to determine its cause.

In a statement demanding humanitarian access as well as the release of migrants from detention in the country, the UN agency said personnel “were present at the site when the fire broke out in a hangar next to the main building”, adding that “nearly 900 migrants, predominantly Ethiopian, were in the overcrowded holding facility at the time of the fire” and “more than 350 were in the hangar area”.

A source cited by the AP news agency added that the majority of the migrants at the site were arrested in the northern province of Saada, while trying to cross into Saudi Arabia.

Those seeking to make their way from Western Africa into the Middle East have turned to the narrow waters between the Horn of Africa and Yemen in great frequency - even despite the ongoing conflict in the country.

Every year tens of thousands of migrants attempt to make the trip to oil-rich Gulf countries, with some 138,000 migrants embarked on the arduous journey in 2019 - a figure that decreased drastically to 37,000 last year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Over 2,500 migrants reached Yemen from Djibouti in January, according to IOM.

Upon arrival migrants are vulnerable to abuse by armed trafficking rings, many of them believed to be connected to the armed groups involved in the war.

Earlier this month, at least 20 migrants were dead after smugglers threw 80 overboard during a voyage from Djibouti in East Africa to Yemen, according to the IOM.

Additional reporting by AP

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