AL-MUKALLA: Hundreds of African migrants have been rescued from smuggling gangs and scores of their captors arrested as part of a security operation in southern Yemen.
Authorities in Lahij province on Saturday launched a coordinated security campaign with Giants Brigades forces targeting human, drug, and other illegal types of trafficking in the Red Sea coastal area of Ras Al-Arah.
Over two days, they freed 450 African migrants being held in dilapidated smuggling shacks in Al-Madaribah and Al-Arah District. They also arrested 52 suspected smugglers, a number of wanted individuals, and seized firearms and ammunition.
Images shared on social media showed dozens of armed vehicles advancing into the desert, and soldiers torching wooden structures — known locally as Ahwash — where migrants had been kept.
Brig. Ja’ar Al-Kalwli, a local security leader, said his forces were currently conducting patrols along the district’s coastline in a hunt for more smugglers, adding that they had seized smuggled wine and cigarettes, explosive-making fertilizers, and several vehicles and motorcycles used in the gangs’ illegal activities.
Ras Al-Arah has long been regarded as a major landing spot for thousands of African migrants, and a smugglers’ hub.
Human traffickers hold hundreds of African migrants captive in warehouses there where they are beaten, raped, and deprived of food and clothing to extort ransom from their families in their home countries, according to local and international rights groups and aid organizations.
In June 2021, Arab News reported that hundreds of African migrants were believed to have perished off Ras Al-Arah after their overloaded boat capsized.
Yasser Al-Yafae, a Yemeni journalist, said that the vast and desolate area had become a safe haven for human traffickers and an entry point for migrants due to its proximity to the Bab Al-Mandab Strait and lack of security presence. And he claimed some Yemeni officials provided protection to smugglers.
“The question is whether the (security) campaign will continue and whether it has a plan to remain and expand in the region, or whether it is transitory. If it is temporary, I do not believe it is practicable,” he added.
Many Yemenis have welcomed the crackdown on smuggling activities along the country’s coastline, and some have demanded a permanent presence of security forces to continue tracking down human trafficking gangs.
In a Facebook post, Ibrahim Abu Malak, from Aden, said: “This (campaign) should have occurred some time ago.
“Because it is a port for smuggling everything detrimental to the country, including medicines and alcohol, as well as money, antiquities, and people, no one was able to control the situation there.”