The Republic of Yemen was created in 1990 after the unification of North and South Yemen and two decades of hostility between them. In 2000, Saudi Arabia and Yemen agreed to redefine their border. Fighting in the northwest between the government and the Houthis, a Zaydi Shia Muslim minority, continued intermittently from 2004 to 2010, and then again from 2014 to the present time.i Moreover, in 2011 protests inspired by the Arab Spring uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt forced the Yemeni President to resign. In the ensuing turmoil, the Houthis seized much of the north and west of the country. At the same time, Saudi-led forces intervened to support the internationally-recognised government based in the south. By 2015 Yemen had plunged into civil war and a grave humanitarian crisis that escalated into a regional proxy war between the Saudi-led coalition and Iran, exacerbated by the presence of al-Qaeda and Islamic State jihadist groups.
Yemen currently has one of the world’s largest humanitarian crises. Its war has forced more than 4.3 million people to leave their homes. In 2021 3,856 refugees fled the country, mainly going to the Netherlands, Germany, and the United Kingdom. In 2019, the United Nations recorded 1,248,711 Yemeni emigrants living in Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, the United States, and Qatar.
Yemen has the fourth-largest IDP population due to conflict in the world, and in 2022 there were 23.4 million IDPs. Nearly 40% of them lived in informal displacement sites where access to basic services was largely inadequate or non-existent. Most of them were residing in the western area. Nevertheless in April 2023, when the conflicting parties signed a truce, new internal displacements fell by 76%. In 2021 84,400 displacements took place because of natural disasters, mainly floods and droughts. Moreover, as of 2023, UNHCR recorded 91,856 refugees and asylum seekers in Yemen, mostly coming from Ethiopia, Iraq, Syria, and Eritrea. Many refugees use Yemen as a transit country and are exposed to severe safety risks and human trafficking situations.
Yemen has long been one of the poorest countries in the Middle East and North Africa. The UN estimated that 24.1 million people in 2023 were at risk of hunger and disease, and roughly 14 million were in acute need of assistance. Trade disruptions, severe fuel supply shortages, growing violence, the Covid-19 pandemic, and the global rise in commodity prices have further deteriorated the socioeconomic conditions of the country. 90% of Yemeni exports come from oil, which also represents one-third of the country’s GDP. The latest data from 2018 set Yemen’s GDP at US$ 21,606,161,070.
I. Basic Information
Yemen is located in the Southwest of the Arabian Peninsula, bordering Saudi Arabia to the north, the Indian Ocean to the south, the Red Sea to the west, and Oman to the east. There are three geographical regions: the Tihama (coastal band), the mountains in the central part, and the northeastern desert. Administratively it has 22 governorates, subdivided into 333 districts.
Yemen covers an area of 527,970 sq. km, and with a population of 34,277,612 it is the most populated country in the Arabian Peninsula. Sanaa is the capital and largest city. The official and most spoken language is Arabic, but people also use different dialects, such as Sanaani, Ta Izzi-Adeni, Hadrami, Gulf, and Judeo-Yemeni. Non-Arabic languages include Razihi, Soqotri, Mehri, Bathari, and Hobyot. Concerning religion, about 98% of the population is Muslim. Only a minority practice Christian and Jewish faiths. Regarding the ethnic composition, Arabs are the major group, but there are also Afro-Arabs, South Asians, and Europeans.
II. International and Internal Migration
According to the UN DESA’s International Migrant Stock estimates, as of mid-2020, there were 387,113 foreigners residing in Yemen (1.2% of the country’s population). Nonetheless, the only significant group among them were the Somalis, accounting for 280,940 people or 72.57% of the stock. The next group were the Sudanese, including only 27,044 people.
UNHCR also reports that there were over 255,000 Somali refugees or asylum seekers in Yemen back then. Therefore, evidence suggests there is no significant number of economic migrants in Yemen, as all of them are asylum seekers or refugees en route towards other destinations.
Regarding internal migration, there are large numbers of Yemenis living in a place different from the one they were born at, and most likely all of them were forcibly displaced people affected by the war. As of April 2022, they reached 4.3 million people.
III. Emigration and Skilled Migration
War in Yemen determined a large increase of the emigration phenomenon, forcing more than 4.3 million people to leave their homes. In addition, 3,856 refugees fled from Yemen in 2021, corresponding approximately to 0.012% of all residents. The most common destinations were the Netherlands, Germany, and the United Kingdom. Regarding emigrants, the United Nations state that, as of 2019, there were 1,248,711 Yemenis registered abroad, and their main destination countries were Saudi Arabia (with 750,919 emigrants), the United Arab Emirates (202,574), Kuwait (68,962), the United States (49,289), and Qatar (35,574).
21.6 million people in Yemen are in dire need of humanitarian assistance and protection services (corresponding to two-thirds of the population). During the conflict, many Yemenis fled to neighbouring Somalia seeking refuge. Moreover, at least 37,000 arrived in Djibouti, just 100 km west of Muhammad’s hometown of Taiz. According to the United Nations, in 2019 there were at least 2,200 Yemenis registered at the Markazi refugee camp.
Yemeni workers in Saudi Arabia have been used to making trade-offs to save money and send remittances to support families in their country of origin. During the pandemic, they struggled to pay for the rising costs of permits and expenses, and because of working restrictions. The deteriorated socioeconomic conditions in Yemen due to the humanitarian crisis, the Covid-19 and the global rise in commodity prices have increased the economic dependence on remittances. Beyond the support of individual families, remittances have been the primary source of foreign currency in the local market, since large-scale oil exports were halted in 2015. Therefore, substantial losses in remittances could be devastating for the country.
IV. Forced Migrants (Internally Displaced Persons, Asylum Seekers, Refugees, and Climate Displaced Persons)
Yemen remains in the world the country affected by the largest humanitarian crises. After years of devastating conflicts, 23.4 million Yemenis depend on humanitarian assistance to survive, including 4.3 million internally displaced persons, as of 2022. This makes Yemen the fourth-largest IDP population due to conflict in the world. Nearly 40% of them live in informal displacement sites where access to basic services is largely inadequate or non existent. Most IDPs are concentrated in the western area, mainly in Marib, Hajjah, Al Hudaydah, and Taizz. UNHCR estimated that as of 21 August 2019, there were 1,280,562 IDP returnees in Yemen. Since the Covid-19 pandemic, the fear of contracting the virus, the shortage of services, and the worsening economic crisis caused many internal displacements across the country. IDPs were indeed the most affected communities by the pandemic.
As of February 28, 2023 UNHCR recorded 91,856 refugees and asylum seekers in Yemen. They mainly came from Somalia (69.5%) and, to a lesser extent, from Ethiopia (20.1%), Iraq (3.5%), Syria (3.2%), and Eritrea (2%). They were mostly between 18 and 59 years old. The leading governorates hosting refugees and asylum seekers are Amanat Al Asimah, Aden, and Lahj. Yemen is the only country in the Arabian Peninsula signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention.xlii Many refugees attempt to transit through Yemen to reach Saudi Arabia or other Gulf countries in order to find work. The major push factors for Somalis and Ethiopians are high unemployment rates and political instability present in their countries, searching for better living conditions and security. On their route, they face severe risks of being trafficked, kidnapped, or dying at sea on one of the busiest maritime mixed migration routes in the world.
In April 2023, when the warring parties signed a truce, new internal displacement fell by 76%. However, due to a lack of formal peace treaties in place, people are still living in unstable conditions. They do not have access to essential services or a social safety system, making them vulnerable to other issues like severe psychological distress. It is estimated that 93% of displaced Yemeni families have at least one family member with a vulnerability, such as psychological distress, a child engaged in labour, living with injuries, or an elderly person left with no care. Children drop out of school, some end up working to support their families by begging, and early marriage of girls has become a survival strategy for many.
Regarding internal displacement caused by natural disasters, in 2021 the Internally Displacement Monitoring Centre recorded 84,400 of them, mostly due to floods and, to a lesser extent, droughts. Heavy rainfall in June 2022 occurred in northern and central Yemen, causing floods in the country that affected approximately 51,000 families (most of them accommodated in displacement sites and settlements). 146 districts and 18 governorates were impacted. Flooding caused the destruction of property, farms, and livelihood, as well as damage to critical infrastructure such as roads and shelters for IDPs.
V. Victims of Human Trafficking
Yemen is considered a “special case” in the U.S. Trafficking in Persons Report due to its civil conflict and humanitarian crisis situation. Thus, information about human trafficking in the country has been especially difficult to collect since 2015. Vulnerable populations are at a growing risk of human trafficking because of armed conflicts, lawlessness, civil unrest, and worsening economic conditions.
In 2021, Yemen Armed Forces continued recruiting or using child soldiers. Migrant workers, especially women and children arriving from the Horn of Africa, may have endured increasing violence. Due to pandemic-related border closures and movement restrictions, many migrants that used Yemen as a transit place to reach other Gulf countries remained stranded there, thus increasing their risk of falling victims of trafficking. Many of them were detained by smugglers and traffickers, and then forcibly transferred across the frontlines of the conflict. An international organisation estimated that in 2021 nearly 35,000 migrants were stranded throughout the country. Moreover, the country’s civil war kept producing large flows of returnees from Yemen to the Horn of Africa. Many of them turned to smugglers to seek irregular pathways to go back home and were at risk of exploitation. Before the conflict, Yemen was a transit point and destination for foreign women and children who were exploited in sex trafficking and forced labour. Many Ethiopians and Somalis travelled voluntarily to Yemen to work in Gulf countries and were exploited in forced labour and sex trafficking while temporarily living in the country.
The lack of legislation criminalising all forms of human trafficking prevented government efforts to investigate and prosecute trafficking offenders. In 2014, the government adopted a bill, subsequently submitted to the Parliament, which aimed to combat all forms of trafficking, protect and assist victims, generate social awareness, and promote national cooperation. However, after the outbreak of the conflict, law enforcement capacity, protection of victims, and prevention efforts were practically non-existent within the country.
On July 2020, a UNHCR field visit to 18 Amran governorates to assess the needs of IDPs confirmed increasing protection and safety concerns, including child labour and begging by women, particularly those whose husbands and sons were fighting on the frontlines. Early marriage was also on the rise. Displaced children were more exposed to violence and harassment by peers from the host community, and the vast majority were out of school.
VI. National Legal Framework
The Yemeni Nationality Law regulates citizenship according to Article 44 of the national Constitution. Law No. 6/1990 (Yemeni Nationality Law) regulates cases of acquisition and revocation of Yemeni citizenship. Article 8 of the Republican Decree No. 3/1994 – Executive Regulation of Law No. 6/1990 AD Concerning the Yemeni Nationality of January 1994 – sets guidelines for the interpretation of the 1990 law on Yemeni nationality. The 1991 Law of Entry and Residence of Aliens regulates the entry approval of a foreigner into the territory of the Yemeni Republic. The Law also sets out the conditions to acquire the resident document, as well as the decision of deportation by the competent authority beyond the borders of any foreigner who has entered the territory of the Republic illegally, as well as the exit visa or expulsion request made by the competent authority to a foreigner residing legally in the territory.
Article 248 of the Yemeni Penal Code prescribes a prison sentence for anyone who “buys, sells or gives as a present, or deals in human beings; and anyone who brings into the country or exports from it a human being with the intent of taking advantage of him.” Article 161 of the Yemen’s Child Rights Law criminalises child prostitution. Yemen signed and ratified the 1930 ILO Convention on Forced Labour, and the Abolition of Forced Labour Convention. Yemen did not sign the 1975 ILO Migrant Workers Convention, the 1990 UN Migrant Workers Convention, the 2000 Human Trafficking Protocol, or the 2000 Migrant Smuggling Protocol.
Yemen ratified both the 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1967 Refugee Protocol in 1980. However, access to asylum procedures in Yemen is restricted. There is a lack of national refugee-specific legislation and the absence of a refugee status determination. Yemen is not a State Party to either the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons or the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness. Yemen ratified the Common Article 3 of the 1949 Geneva Conventions and the Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949 relating to the Protection of Victims of Non-International Armed Conflicts that Yemen ratified in 1990, as applicable to the situations of armed conflict ongoing in the country since 2014.
VII. Main Actors
The Ministry of the Interior (MOI) and its departments in the governorates handle the issue and renewal of ordinary passports. MOI is also responsible for the issue of special or emergency travel documents to Yemeni Republic Nationals. It also issues nationality and identity certificates to sailors, and travel and exit permits to Arabs and foreigners resident in the Republic who are subjects of countries which have no diplomatic representation in Yemen. The Passport and Immigration Department handles immigration issues. This department, embassies and consulates of the Yemeni Republic abroad issue ordinary passports and travel documents.
The Ministry of Human Rights aims to promote and protect human rights in coordination with other ministries, and other national and international bodies. The ministry highlights Yemen’s commitment to the protection and promotion of human rights and to the international conventions that Yemen ratified.
The Ministry of Human Rights established the interministerial National Technical Committee for Combating Trafficking via ministerial cabinet decree No. 46. The NTCCT has a high-level representation from a number of ministries, especially defence, justice, and planning, and was established with IOM’s support. The NTCCT is tasked with developing a national strategy to combat human trafficking, in collaboration with IOM, UNODC, and ILO.
UNHCR is the agency, which handles the protection, shelter, non-food items distribution, camp coordination, and camp management clusters for forcibly displaced persons, and co leads with IOM the Refugee and Migrants Multi-Sector for refugees and asylum-seekers.
UNHCR distributes emergency shelter kits in Taiz, Al Hodeidah, and Hadramawt governorates. In addition, the organisation provides core relief items to internally displaced families in Taiz and Al Hodeidah, and oversees the need for localised shelter units at Al Suwayda. Al Suwayda internally displaced sites in the Marib governorate and the supplier installed the localised shelter at both sites.
UNHCR offers awareness-raising sessions on the importance and impact of education on society and their future. These seminars have already taken place at Al-slam, Al-Whdah, Al Judas, and Al-Hadiqa internally displaced sites in Dhamar and Albayda governorates, in the framework of camp management and camp coordination activities for displaced people and children. UNHCR carries out rehabilitation work at the Al Munasar health facility in the Al Marawa’a district of Al Hodeidah governorate.
IOM in Yemen focuses on health care, clean water, safe sanitation, shelter, and displacement camp management and protection support. Its Camp Management and Coordination program aims to improve the living conditions of displaced families residing in informal and formal sites, collective centres, communal buildings and spontaneous settlements. IOM also manages many sites for displaced persons across Yemen, including Al Jufainah, Yemen’s largest displaced site. Technical advice and capacity building are provided to authorities acting as camp administration. IOM’s teams work in water, sanitation and hygiene, shelter and non-food items, cash, health and protection interventions in these sites, and mobilise external partners to ensure that additional support is provided. In 2022, it reached more than 182,000 people with camp management and coordination support. IOM supports cash-based interventions targeting the most socio-economically vulnerable households among newly displaced, migrant, and host community members.
The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), the UN World Food Programme (WFP) and UNICEF sustain the integrated humanitarian response for forcibly displaced persons in Yemen, including food and nutrition support, clean water, basic health care, protection and other necessities.
NGOs and Other Organisations
The Danish Refugee Council (DRC) has been active in Yemen since 2008, but its operation was substantially scaled from 2015 on, giving special assistance after the outbreak of the ongoing civil conflict. It provides support to those displaced by the conflict through different lines of intervention, such as managing and coordinating refugee camps; providing shelter and supporting the settlement processes; activities of humanitarian disarmament and peacebuilding; supporting the economic recovery of affected persons through financial aid; and protection of targeted groups and otherwise threatened populations.
Another case of a globally relevant NGO supporting people affected and displaced by the Yemen conflict is that of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC). Their operation in the country is aimed at helping people who have been displaced by war, the communities that have come to host them, and those who have returned after. According to their reports, in 2022 they were able to provide assistance to 927,960 people. Their activities include offering education services, giving legal information and counselling, protecting vulnerable and targeted persons from violence, ensuring livelihoods and food security, providing shelter and settlements, and coordinating and managing refugee camps.
Furthemore, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) has been working with migrants and refugees in Yemen since 2012. It is present in the Aden, Abyan, Lahj, Al Dahleez and Shabwa, and Sana’a governorates. Their initiatives include providing services to cover needs like health, nutrition, sanitation, and water; giving essential supplies to hospitals; advocating for improved humanitarian access and open air and seaports; or improving access to education for children deprived of it by the conflict.
The Catholic Church
The Catholic Church is present in Yemen under the mandate of the Apostolic Vicariate of South Arabia, overseeing countries like the United Arab Emirates, Oman, and Yemen.lxxi Its family office counsels and supports families in crisis, migrant and single-parent families.lxxii The Catholic Church in Yemen has four parishes: Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in Hodeidah, St. Francis of Assisi Church in Aden, St. Mary Help of Christians Church in Sana’a, and St. Theresa of the Child Jesus Church in Taiz.
Catholic Relief Services (CRS) in Yemen has been working since the beginning of the crisis to provide vital water and sanitation support to prevent the spread of the disease. Overall needs have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, especially in communities with limited access to medical care and clean water. CRS has expanded emergency programming to train Yemeni youth to work in understaffed health facilities, strengthened health systems, water and sanitation infrastructure, and provided vulnerable communities with hygiene supplies and information to prevent the spread of COVID-19.CRS works with Caritas Poland and Education for Employment to strengthen health systems, support youth livelihoods, and rehabilitate water and sanitation infrastructure.
There is no Caritas Yemen, but since 2020 it has been possible to operate through Caritas Poland. Caritas Italy also cooperates with Caritas Poland and the international Caritas network in a humanitarian crisis response programme. Interventions focus on the South of the country, in Aden and Al Dhale, and are carried out in close collaboration with local authorities and communities. Its activities focus on rehabilitating and providing medicines and equipment to selected health facilities to ensure access to basic health services, including obstetric and neonatal care, access to sanitation and safe drinking water, sensitisation of local communities on health and hygiene practices necessary for the prevention of COVID-19 and other diseases, food assistance, psychosocial support to vulnerable women and girls. This programme will continue on in 2023.
The Missionaries of Charity have been present in Yemen since 1973 after the government formally invited them to care for their sick and elderly. The Sisters of Charity run homes for the poor and disabled in Sana’a, Taiz, Hodeida, and Aden. In 2016, the sisters suffered an attack that claimed the lives of several of them, which sent shockwaves through the Catholic community in Yemen. However, despite the unfortunate event, the sisters pledged to continue working with those most in need in the country.
Catholic Agency for Overseas Development (CAFOD) also works in Yemen, focusing on supporting nutrition for mothers and babies, food for families facing hunger, water and sanitation to prevent the spread of the disease, and mobile medical clinics to serve the population.