Around 7,000 migrants enter Yemen every month in the search for a better future, with most seeking to reach Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries. However, a UN statement released yesterday has revealed that people smugglers are using them as commodities, and often hold them to ransom.
Smugglers exploit the migrants by holding them in detention for lengthy periods, says the UN, during which they are forced to work without pay and under poor conditions. Some are at risk of torture and sexual abuse.
"Yemen is experiencing the worst humanitarian crisis in the world," the UN migration agency said. "It is obviously not a safe route for migrants."
Most migrants from Africa travel overland to Djibouti and then use boats to cross the Gulf of Aden, where they enter southern Yemen. Once there, they seek to get across the border into Saudi Arabia.
"I met teenagers in utter distress from what they have experienced already in their young lives," explained Mohammed Abdiker, director of operations and emergencies at the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).
Once they are caught up in the Yemen civil war, which began in September 2014, many migrants end up doing heavy labouring work in the southern governorates in an effort to make enough money to fund their onward travel.
Last year, the IOM rescued 2,900 migrants and refugees and sent them home from Yemen. More than 70% were Somalis, while 25% were Ethiopians, with a smattering of other nationalities.
Only last month, Human Rights Watch (HRW) warned that African migrants and refugees are being subject to sexual abuse in detention. The NGO accused Yemeni government employees of "torturing, raping and executing" migrants and asylum seekers from the Horn of Africa in a detention centre in the southern port city of Aden as well as forcing them out to sea. HRW also accused the Houthis of detaining migrants arbitrarily in poor conditions and failing to provide access to asylum and protection procedures in the port city of Hodeida.
Three years after the Saudi-led coalition entered the conflict, Yemen has witnessed more than 10,000 deaths, according to the UN. Civilians remain trapped in the crossfire, with dwindling supplies of basic amenities and a lack of access to sufficient water, sanitation and food.