back to the Immigration Detention Monitor

25 January 2022 – Yemen

Image of the Destroyed Detention Centre in Sa'da Taken on 22 January 2022 (Ansarullah Media via AFP,
Image of the Destroyed Detention Centre in Sa'da Taken on 22 January 2022 (Ansarullah Media via AFP, "Dozens Killed in Saudi-led Coalition Air Raid on Yemen Prison," Al-Jazeera, 21 January 2021,

On 21 January, a Saudi Arabia-led coalition airstrike in Yemen struck a detention centre in the Sa’ad province under the control of rebel Houthi forces, killing at least 82 people and injuring 266 others. Médecins Sans Frontières reported that the al-Gumhourriyeh hospital in Sa’da had taken in around 200 wounded but that there were “many bodies still at the scene of the airstrike. … It is impossible to know how many people have been killed.” Among those killed at the facility were African migrants.

Migrants have frequently been targeted in the conflict in Yemen. In March 2021, Houthi forces launched projectiles into an immigration detention centre in Saana, killing 44 people detained in the centre (for more information see 16 March 2021 Yemen update on this platform).

The impact of the conflict on migrants in Yemen has been severely exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, thousands of whom were stranded in the country after the onset of the pandemic. In June 2020, it was estimated that some 14,500 African migrants remained in the country. Humanitarian officials, local security guards and residents have said that the Houthis have used the COVID-19 crisis as an excuse to expel unwanted migrants, mostly from Ethiopia, driving them towards the Saudi Arabian border or rounding up truckloads of people and dumping them outside Houthi land.

The International Organisation for Migration estimates that from April to June 2020, northern authorities had arrested and relocated 1,500 migrants to southern Yemen and that thousands were stranded in the port city of Aden, many of whom were living on the street. Local officials in Houthi territory reported that at least 390 migrants were deported to Al Jawf in April 2020 and from mid-April to mid-May 2020, at least 486 were expelled south to the city of Taiz. According to the UNHCR, in 2020, there were 166,906 refugees, 10,693 asylum seekers and 4,042,836 internally displaced persons in the country.

On 31 March 2021, Yemen received 360,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses shipped through the COVAX Facility. The doses arrived together with 13,000 safety boxes and 1,300,000 syringes. In December 2021, the IOM began vaccinating migrants stranded in Yemen, aiming to vaccinate around 7,5000 people at its Migrant Response Points in Aden and Ma’rib. According to the IOM, as of December 2021, an estimated 36,000 migrants have been stranded on their journeys due to COVID-19 related mobility restrictions since the start of the pandemic with many sleeping rough or in overcrowded and unsanitary accommodation where the virus can easily spread. The IOM’s Chief of Mission, Christa Rottensteiner said: “We welcome the Government’s commitment to protecting migrants against COVID-19 and immunising people on the move is key to combating the spread of the disease. There are still not enough doses to protect everyone in Yemen from this disease. More support from the international community to supply the country with enough vaccines will save lives.”

The Global Detention Project has been unable to confirm whether any immigration detainees have been released as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic. Houthi rebels released 2,361 prisoners from March to April 2020 as part of the precautionary measures against the virus. As of 1 April 2020, the Yemeni government had released 500 prisoners from different provinces across the country.