Sunday, March 25, 2012
The operation for freeing the African victims came after the Yemen Observer and other Yemeni media reported that these border crossers have been subjected to kidnapping, torture, beatings and extortion by armed gangs in Haradh district in the province of Hajjah, close to the KSA borders.
Many African men and women arrive in Yemen from Ethiopia and Somalia aiming to cross the border in order to reach Saudi Arabia. However, they fall into the hands of traffickers who detain them in the eastern part of Haradah. Local sources from Haradah said that when authorities found the victims they were wearing only their underwear.
The detained Africans were found after one of them managed to escape by scaling the walls of the detention site and reported the location to the authorities. According to the detainees, the kidnappers hit them hard with pipes and burnt their bodies with cigarettes.
A high ranking official who spoke under the condition of anonymity said “he was shocked when heard the details of their torture. No one can imagine that those Africans were detained in the house of one of the smugglers for all of this time, and up until now we haven’t been able to determine the number of deaths.” According to the director of Harad security, Mohammed Nijad, many of the victims were trying to enter KSA, searching for job opportunities, but they ended up in the hands of smugglers who demanded thousands of dollars to release them. Berhane Taklu-Nagga, the director of the UNHCR office in Haradh, said that the African immigrants suffered from acts of torture until their families living abroad paid ransom for their release. The Yemen Observer had published an article about the torture of African immigrants, based on a Ministry of Interior report stating that 170 Africans were subjected to detention, torture and torment by armed smugglers between the period of January 2011 and February 2012. The report also stated that among the victims were 91 men, 10 women, 50 children and 19 old people. Most of them were brutally beaten up, burned and punched in the face which resulted in a loss of sight and hearing. Last February security units arrested two smugglers from the armed groups. The first one was charged with detaining 49 Ethiopians and the second one charged with detaining 79 Africans.
Hamoud Haider, the head of local council in Haradh, said that the authorities are still searching for 20 Ethiopian girls who are believed to have been subjected to rape and other types of torture. Taklu-Nagga said that rape represents one of the most common methods of torture, and according to witnesses most of the estimated 3,000 women who arrived in Yemen last year were repeatedly raped by smugglers.
He said out of the 24 women who were interviewed, 17 of them said that they were raped by smugglers for the past year.
“The actual number may be higher than that because the victims of rape do not always admit that they have been raped, especially those that belong to African communities, as they are conservative and treat them like outcasts. In several cases, rape crimes have resulted in pregnancies as one of the interviewed women said. “The smugglers released me after 8 months, only after my father had paid around $5,000. I had to have an abortion and my husband must never know what happened to me,” one of the victim said.
The victims of rape were not only women, but also included men who tried to stop smugglers and armed gangs from raping any women, one of the victims told IRIN. Neighbors and citizens living near these areas said that they heard screams. These screams were the result of torture as many of the victims have lost body parts.
A 30-year-old man from Ethiopia, Ademi Abdullah Alysri, said that he was tortured for two months in the area of Abs in Hajjah. “I was beaten by the gangs for more than 50 days and wasn’t even given tissues to wipe the blood from my eyes,” said Ademi.
He said that the smugglers told him that he had 5 days to call anybody outside Yemen who can pay for his release. Many citizens did not report the cries and the screams that they heard at night because they were afraid.
Nineteen houses with high walls have been identified in Haradah where they suspect African immigrants are being detained and tortured. In spite of the prevalent instability and the disorder in the country last year, the number of Ethiopians that have arrived in Yemen has increased by 100%.
According to official statistics, until December last year more than 65,000 Ethiopians arrived in Yemen compared to 34,422 in 2010. Taklu-Nagga, the Haradh-based UNHCR director, said that there are between 10,000 to 15,000 illegal Ethiopian immigrants arriving in Haradh every year.