Yemen remains a major stop on the route for migrants from Africa to wealthy Gulf states, and smugglers are taking advantage of the chaos of the war to evade security checks, the International Organization for Migration said.
A growing number of migrants are flocking to Yemen, even as its dire humanitarian crisis deepens, with nearly 150,000 expected to arrive in the war-ravaged country in 2018, the UN said Tuesday.
International Organization for Migration forecast that migrant arrivals to Yemen would swell 50 percent this year compared to some 100,000 people who arrived in the devastated country in 2017.
"We are confident in forecasting migration arrivals to Yemen, a country at war, will reach about 150,000 people this year," IOM spokesman Joel Millman told reporters in Geneva.
He described it as "extraordinary and alarming" that so many people were "crossing a dangerous war zone."
UN aid chief: Yemen talks not an 'easy or rapid process'
The United Nations humanitarian aid chief says he doesn't expect an "easy or rapid process" in peace talks that begin this week involving warring sides in Yemen, which faces the world's largest humanitarian crisis.
A Yemeni rebel official said, meanwhile, the country's internationally recognized government and its allies in a Saudi-led coalition have signed a U.N.-brokered prisoner exchange deal with the Shiite rebels.
Mark Lowcock, head of the world body's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, spoke to The Associated Press on Monday after laying out the organization's 2019 humanitarian appeal.
He said the "onus" in the peace talks is on Yemen's government and Iran-aligned rebels to "take this seriously and act in a responsible way."
Yemen's conflict, which erupted in late 2014, has brought the impoverished country to the brink of famine, and the UN has described Yemen as the world's worst humanitarian disaster.
But the country remains on an established route for migrants, who typically first travel by land through Djibouti before eventually undergoing perilous boat journeys across the Gulf of Aden to Yemen.
From there, they usually try to make their way to other Gulf nations, often in search of work.
IOM estimated that around 92 percent of the migrants who have entered Yemen this year are Ethiopian, while the rest are from Somalia.
About 20 percent of the migrants are minors, "and many of them are unaccompanied," Millman said.
Asked why there would be such a big jump in numbers at a time when Yemen is spiralling ever deeper into despair, he said it appeared smugglers were actually using the conflict and violence "as marketing points".
Minefields and gunfire
Smugglers, he said, promise migrants an easy passage since the authorities are "way too preoccupied with the civil unrest... to properly monitor the borders."
"Of course once they get there, it is a very different situation. There are minefields to cross, there are exchanges of gunfire," he said.
IOM could not provide numbers on how many migrants have died, trying to cross through Yemen, but Millman said 156 sea deaths had been confirmed this year on the various sea passages towards Yemen.
"There is no question (the deaths) are underreported," he said.
Millman stressed that the migrant crisis in Yemen was "an emergency" on a scale that outpaces most large migrant movements in the world.
For instance, he said, "the number 150,000 is considerably more, by tens of thousands than the forecast for all seaborne irregular migration across the Mediterranean this year."
In a bid to address the problem, IOM said it would be hosting a conference on Wednesday in Djibouti, bringing together seven countries Djibouti, Egypt, Ethiopia, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Somalia and Yemen aimed to "ensure urgent enhancements in the management of migratory flows to Yemen and the Gulf countries."