DUBAI (Reuters) - African migrants and asylum seekers in Yemen are being subjected to physical and sexual abuse in detention, Human Rights Watch(HRW) and the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR said.
HRW, in a statement, accused Yemeni government employees of “torturing, raping and executing” migrants and asylum seekers from the Horn of Africa in a detention center in the southern port city of Aden as well as forcibly deporting them out to sea.
It said Yemen’s Interior Ministry had responded to an HRW inquiry by saying they had dismissed the center’s commander and begun transferring migrants to another location.
The group said in its statement late on Tuesday that the center was under Yemeni state control, but that migrants were being arrested and taken there by forces backed by the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which is a major component of a Saudi-led coalition that intervened in Yemen’s civil war in 2015.
UAE officials and Yemeni officials in Aden did not immediately respond to Reuters’ requests for comment.
The Western-backed coalition has been fighting the Houthis in a three-year war to restore the internationally recognized government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi. His government has a presence in Aden, while Hadi lives in Saudi Arabia.
“Guards at the migrant detention center in Aden have brutally beaten men, raped women and boys, and sent hundreds out to sea in overloaded boats,” said Bill Frelick, refugee rights director at HRW, calling on the government to hold those responsible to account.
HRW said the detention center in Aden’s Buraika area had since early 2017 held several hundred Ethiopian, Somali and Eritrean migrants, asylum seekers and refugees, but that only about 90 migrants remained, mostly Eritrean, as of this month.
In a separate report on Tuesday, UNHCR also said it has received reports of the detention, abuse and forcible deportation of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants in Yemen, but did not specify where this was taking place.
“Survivors have described to UNHCR being shot at, regular beatings, rapes of adults and children, humiliations including forced nudity, being forced to witness summary executions, and denial of food,” it said.
It called on “state and non-state” actors effectively controlling detention facilities where new arrivals are being held to ensure those being detained are treated humanely.
HRW accused the armed Houthi movement that controls northern Yemen of arbitrarily detaining migrants in poor conditions and failing to provide access to asylum and protection procedures in the port city of Hodeida.
Many migrants from desperately poor Horn of Africa countries risk the hazardous journey through Yemen in the hope of finding work in Saudi Arabia and other wealthy Gulf Arab states.
Writing by Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Richard Balmforth