Yemen: Detained African Migrants Tortured, Raped .

Grant Access to Asylum Procedures; Hold Abusers Accountable

(New York, April 17, 2018) –Yemeni government officials have tortured, raped, and executed migrants and asylum seekers from the Horn of Africa in a detention center in the southern port city of Aden, Human Rights Watch said today. The authorities have denied asylum seekers an opportunity to seek refugee protection and deported migrants en masse to dangerous conditions at sea.

Former detainees told Human Rights Watch that guards beat them with steel bars and sticks, whipped them, kicked and punched them, threatened to kill or deport them, sexually assaulted them, and fatally shot at least two men. Male guards forced women to take off their abayas (full-length robes) and headscarves. They took migrants’ money, personal belongings, and documents provided by the United Nations refugee agency.

“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 Human Rights Watch. “The crisis in Yemen provides zero justification for this cruelty and brutality, and the Yemeni government should put a stop to it and hold those responsible to account.”

Human Rights Watch interviewed eight migrants, including seven ethnic Oromo from Ethiopia who had recently been held at the center, as well as Yemeni government officials and members of migrant communities.

The migrant detention center, in Aden’s Buraika district, is a converted marine science research center. Since early 2017, it has held several hundred Ethiopian, Somali, and Eritrean migrants, asylum seekers, and refugees, though as of April 2018, only about 90, primarily Eritrean, migrants remained.

Past videos and photos of the detention facility show hundreds of men and boys in a crowded concrete hangar, with women and girls sitting on a stone floor. Former detainees reported that the facility was overcrowded, with dire sanitation conditions and little access to medical care. The provision of food was inconsistent, and guards would occasionally withhold food.

Former detainees said guards sexually assaulted women, girls, and boys regularly. Boys would be taken at night: “Every night, they would take one, to rape them,” a former detainee said. “Not all of them. The small ones. The little ones. I know seven boys who were sexually assaulted… You could hear what was happening.” Several former detainees said the boys would come back unable to sit, sometimes crying, and occasionally telling the others what had happened. An Ethiopian woman who had been held at the facility said she still suffered pain after a guard beat her severely for refusing to have sex with him. She said women and girls were regularly raped and saw guards rape two of her friends.

Yemeni officials have not given asylum seekers an opportunity to seek protection or otherwise challenge their deportation, former detainees said. The former head of the center told VICE News Tonight on HBO that he used smugglers to return migrants to Djibouti, claiming he deported between 500 to 700 migrants a month this way: “And all the trips that we did are by the ministry’s instructions. No, [the interior minister] doesn’t ask us to contact the smuggler, but we return them in the same way they came in… They smuggled them in, they should smuggle them out.”

An Ethiopian man told Human Rights Watch the guards would take 10 people outside and have them write their names and why they left their country. He said, “If any one of them say ‘persecution,’ they tell them, ‘Be quiet, you are lying’ and then register them as migrants looking for job opportunities.” After this questioning, the man saw guards take about 150 people away from the center, including eight children he knew had been raped. The guards said they were taking them across the Red Sea to Djibouti.

The Yemeni authorities have prevented international humanitarian organizations that have visited the center from examining migrants with serious injuries, former detainees said. Guards remained near visiting aid workers, making it impossible for detainees to safely report on conditions.

Yemen’s Interior Ministry, in response to the Human Rights Watch preliminary findings, wrote in a April 2 letter that they had removed the center’s commander and begun procedures to transfer the migrants to another location, and promised to investigate complaints or evidence of abuse. Two detainees said that after the commander’s removal, some of the worst abuses had stopped.

The authorities have continued to send large groups of migrants out to sea without allowing them to seek protection or otherwise challenge their deportation, Human Rights Watch said.

In early April, the center’s new authorities put the remaining Ethiopians – about 200 people – on trucks and transported them to Bab al-Mandab, on the coast about 150 kilometers from Aden, two witnesses said. Guards sent one boat of about 100 Ethiopians out to sea. The engine of a second boat was not working, so the guards forced the remaining Ethiopians into a large, guarded yard near the shore. After a day in the yard without food, some detainees managed to escape.

The Houthi armed group, which controls the capital, Sanaa, and much of northern Yemen, has also arbitrarily detained migrants in poor conditions and failed to provide access to asylum and protection procedures in a facility near the western port of Hodeida, a former detainee and migrant community activists told Human Rights Watch. The former detainee said the conditions in Hodeida were “inhumane,” including overcrowding, lack of access to medical care, and physical abuse: “Some of the guards were very cruel and merciless. They used to beat us indiscriminately.”

Human Rights Watch examined photos showing men with sores and festering wounds. In early 2018, at least one group of migrants – 87 people, including 7 children – held in the Hodeida facility were released on condition they travel to Aden, the former detainee said. Yemeni soldiers stopped the group along the way and took them to the Buraika detention facility.

“Both the Yemeni authorities and the Houthis need to work with the United Nations refugee agency to establish a process that would allow African migrants to seek asylum or otherwise get needed protection,” Frelick said. “The horrific mistreatment of these vulnerable people only brings Yemeni leaders, whether from the government or the Houthis, into global disrepute.”

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