The Yemeni authorities have taken steps to establish a maritime security zone along the country's 2,500 kilometre-long coastline. The purpose is primarily to deter illegal immigrants from entering Yemen.
According to the head of the Yemeni Coast Guard, Brigadier Ahmed Subhi, the zone encompasses around 30 per cent of Yemen's territorial waters as determined by internationally-agreed limits. Coast Guard personnel are patrolling around the clock to maintain the secure waters, he added.
Illegal migrants to Yemen usually originate in Africa, said the Coast Guard chief. Those who are apprehended are handed over to the offices of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
Deputy Foreign Minister Amir Aidaroos said last June that the number of immigrants and illegal refugees who are registered officially in Yemen had reached nearly 750,000 people. Most came from countries in the Horn of Africa, mainly Somalia and Ethiopia, and are often employed in unskilled jobs at rates which undercut the local levels. Illegal immigrants are thus blamed for the high unemployment rate amongst native Yemenis, as employers prefer to hire the cheaper migrants.
The government has also taken into consideration the fact that foreign fighters may infiltrate Yemen to join one of the many armed groups in the country, taking advantage of the current political and social chaos since the Houthi rebels staged what has been called a "coup" in the capital Sana'a.