African migrants dying in Yemen border town

Refugees from East Africa attempt to enter Saudi Arabia, but are being expelled and left to starve.

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By Reuters | Dec. 4, 2010 | 7:37 PM

Thirty African migrants, some of them among thousands deported by Saudi Arabia, have died in recent weeks along Yemen’s border where a humanitarian crisis is growing, an aid agency said on Friday.

Saudi Arabia has been expelling illegal migrants, mainly from Ethiopia, Somalia or Sudan, who reach the oil-exporting kingdom after a long and hazardous journey across the Horn of Africa seeking a better life in the Gulf or beyond, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said.

“An increasing number have been deported by Saudi Arabia and dumped at the border,” IOM spokeswoman Jemini Pandya told a news briefing. “Thirty migrants have died in the past few weeks.”

One was shot, another beaten to death and a third had died of kidney failure, but exact circumstances were unclear, she said. “The morgue is now full.”

Many African migrants suffered from malaria, tuberculosis, typhoid or malnutrition, according to the IOM. Some were among those taken by Saudi authorities by bus to the northern Yemeni border town of Haradh.

“With no means of either continuing their journey or returning home, the migrants are sleeping out in the open, dehydrated and trying to survive on whatever scraps of food they can find,” Pandya said. “They have no money or identity papers.”

The IOM and other agencies have helped about 1,000 out of 2,000 Ethiopian migrants to return home since mid-November after giving them food, shelter and medical care, she said. The organization has appealed for $1 million to complete the task.

“There are many thousands more still stuck in the border area. It is an emerging humanitarian crisis,” she told Reuters.

“There is a bottleneck rapidly developing, it is becoming increasingly acute. Yemen is a major transit route for migrants and asylum seekers from the Horn of Africa,” she said.

More than 30,000 African migrants and refugees fleeing conflict and poverty have arrived in Yemen from the Horn of Africa so far this year, most aboard smugglers’ boats, according to the UN refugee agency.

Saudi Arabia regards Yemen as a failed state where President Ali Abdullah Saleh is losing control, according to a leaked U.S. diplomatic cable quoting the Saudi counter-terrorism chief.

The oil-rich kingdom is worried that al Qaeda’s Yemen-based wing is exploiting instability there to stage attacks inside Saudi Arabia.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said on Thursday it was expanding aid operations in Yemen and doubling its appeal for the country to nearly $50 million for 2011.

“The humanitarian needs are enormous,” ICRC President Jakob Kellenberger told reporters. “There is considerable uncertainty about developments in the south and we have to be prepared.”

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