AL-MUKALLA: Yemen’s government and human rights activists have called for the formation of an international inquiry to examine the death of dozens of African migrants inside a detention camp in Houthi-controlled Sanaa on Sunday.
The Yemeni government has accused the Houthis of recruiting detained migrants to fight in the civil war. The migrants were said to have burned to death in a fire after protesting against mistreatment and poor conditions inside a detention facility.
“We strongly condemn the horrific crime committed in migrant detentions run by the terrorist Houthi militia in the seized capital, Sanaa, which led to the death and injury of hundreds of them, who were buried in a mass grave — a Houthi attempts to cover up the crime,” Yemen’s Information Minister Muammer Al-Aryani said.
He added: “We call for a transparent and independent international investigation to reveal details of the crime and hold the perpetrators to account, pressure Houthis to stop recruiting and exploiting refugees in combat, release all detainees in respect of Yemen's obligations and ensure freedom of movement or voluntary return.”
The fire on Sunday occurred in a detention center in Sanaa, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said.
“The total number of migrants who died in the fire at the Immigration, Passports and Naturalization Authority Immigration Holding Facility remains unconfirmed, as official records have yet to be released. More than 170 people have been treated for injuries, with many in critical condition,” the IOM said in a statement seen by Arab News.
Local Yemeni media reports and government officials said that “several hundreds” were killed or wounded in the blaze and that Houthi rebels had suppressed information about the incident in order to avoid an international backlash.
Majed Fadhail, deputy minister of human rights, told Arab News that “up to 500 migrants” were killed or injured in the fire. Quoting local medical sources, the Yemeni news agency Yemen Press Network (Yazaan) reported that the number of deaths numbered 50, and that about 130 migrants, including dozens of critical cases, were injured.
The UN migration agency said that the cause of the fire was unclear. But an anonymous local source told Arab News that hundreds of migrants had staged a riot inside the overcrowded detention center to protest against mistreatment, long detention periods and poor conditions.
Migrants blocked doors with blankets and mattresses to prevent detention guards from entering rooms to suppress the riot,” the source said, adding that a guard threw an incendiary device inside the detention that ignited the blaze.
On Tuesday, the IOM warned that tightened security measures by Houthis had obstructed their teams from reaching the injured migrants, and demanded the rebels to allow medical access and release the remaining migrants.
“We are facing challenges accessing the injured due to an increased security presence in the hospitals. Humanitarian and health workers must be given access to support the treatment of those affected by the fire and others who have been receiving long-term care from IOM and partners,” said Carmela Godeau, IOM regional director for the Middle East and North Africa.
Yemen’s Foreign Minister Ahmed Awadh bin Mubarak sent his condolences to the Ethiopian government over the death of Ethiopian citizens in the fire, and vowed to provide them with medical care and hold the perpetrators accountable.
“We affirm we’ll make every effort with the relevant international organizations to reach the survivors, provide them with the necessary care, uncover the circumstances of this traumatic incident — for which Houthis are responsible — and hold those in charge accountable,” he said on Twitter.