GENEVA (AP) — Despite six months of escalating war in Yemen, the U.N. refugee agency says more than 35,000 people fleeing their homelands — mainly from Ethiopia and Somalia — have entered the country since late March in hopes of finding a better life.
In the same period, more than 121,000 people have fled Yemen to neighboring countries, the agency said.
Tuesday's statement from the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees sheds new light on the desperation that people face and the risks they're willing to take. The agency called the journey into Yemen "particularly perilous," and said 88 people had died at sea between the Horn of Africa and Yemen this year.
Some 70,000 people — mostly economic migrants from Ethiopia and refugees from Somalia — have crossed this year, UNHCR said. Spokesman Adrian Edwards noted that Yemen has long been a thoroughfare for travelers seeking to reach oil-rich Gulf states, and many migrants have sought ways around the fighting.
"Most of the movements to Yemen have shifted to the Arabian Sea coast where people believe the situation is calmer," UNHCR said. It tallied over 10,000 new arrivals in September — a 50 percent increase from August — and over 10,000 so far in October. Yemen now hosts more than 264,000 refugees, some 95 percent of them Somali, UNHCR said.
Over 4,000 people have died since fighting escalated March 26 between forces loyal to President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, a U.S. ally, and Iranian-backed Shiite Houthi rebels. UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration, also based in Geneva, estimate that as of mid-October, more than 2.3 million people — about one-tenth of Yemen's total population — have been internally displaced.