The International Organization for Migration says the cause of the fire, at the detention centre in war-torn Yemen's capital Sanaa, was not immediately clear.

Boys look as a worker uses a hose to put down fire at a a vehicle oil and tires store hit by Saudi-led air strikes in Sanaa, Yemen July 2, 2020.
Boys look as a worker uses a hose to put down fire at a a vehicle oil and tires store hit by Saudi-led air strikes in Sanaa, Yemen July 2, 2020. (Khaled Abdullah / Reuters Archive)

At least eight migrants and guards have been killed and more than 170 others injured in a fire at a refugee and asylum seeker holding facility in Yemen’s capital.

"Eight people confirmed dead, the total death toll is reported to be much higher," Carmela Godeau, IOM's regional director for the Middle East and North Africa, tweeted on Sunday. 

"IOM is responding particularly with emergency health care for over 170 injured, more than 90 of them are in a serious condition."

The detention centre is run by the Houthi rebels, who have controlled the capital since the outbreak of Yemen’s conflict more than six years ago. The rebels said civil defence teams managed to extinguish the fire and that investigations were ongoing to determine its cause.

A UN official said the fire broke out in a hangar close to the main building of the detention centre, which was housing more than 700 migrants.

Most of the migrants were arrested in the northern province of Saada, while trying to cross into Saudi Arabia, said the official who spoke on condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to brief the media.

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'Remains unclear'

Godeau said that it "remains unclear" how the fire at the centre in Sanaa started, adding: "This is just one of the many dangers that migrants have faced during the past six years of the crisis in Yemen."

The narrow waters between the Horn of Africa and Yemen have been a popular migration route despite Yemen’s ongoing conflict. Tens of thousands of migrants, desperate to find jobs as housekeepers, servants and construction workers, try to make their way through Yemen every year to the oil-rich Gulf countries.

Some 138,000 migrants embarked on the arduous journey from the Horn of Africa to Yemen in 2019, but this number decreased drastically to 37,000 last year because of the coronavirus pandemic. Over 2,500 migrants reached Yemen from Djibouti in January, according to IOM.

Those migrants are vulnerable to abuse by armed trafficking rings, many of them believed to be connected to the armed groups involved in the war. Earlier this month, at least 20 migrants were dead after smugglers threw 80 overboard during a voyage from Djibouti in East Africa to Yemen, according to the IOM.

It is believed thousands of migrants are stranded in Yemen, where a years-long conflict has claimed tens of thousands of lives and displaced millions in what the UN calls the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

Every year thousands of migrants make perilous boat journeys from the Horn of Africa to the war-torn nation, many with the aim of travelling overland to Gulf countries in search of work.

Last week, at least 20 people drowned after smugglers threw dozens of migrants overboard during a crossing between Djibouti and Yemen, according to IOM.

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Source: TRTWorld and agencies