Yemen, Abyan and Shabwa governorates

Refugee boat at the coast of Yemen © MSF

Refugee boat at the coast of Yemen © MSF

Yemen is a host and transit country for a high number of refugees and migrants. Escaping conflict, poverty and instability, people embark on hazardous boat journeys, putting themselves in the hands of smugglers. In September 2007 Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) started working in the south of Yemen, providing medical and humanitarian assistance to refugees and migrants arriving from the Horn of Africa. In addition to providing medical care, MSF teams also documented the dangerous journey across the Gulf of Aden and advocated for more attention and humanitarian assistance for the new arrivals.

During the period September 2007 to March 2010, MSF assisted more than 25,000 new arrivals at the Yemeni shore between Abyan and Shabwah governorates. A system of focal points in the communities along the coast alerted MSF teams when boats arrived. Mobile teams would go to the beach to provide first medical aid and psychological assistance, food and water and kits with clothes and sanitary products. MSF also ran the health centre at Ahwar Reception Centre (ARC), where new arrivals are registered and where they are able to stay and rest for some days to recover from the harsh journey. MSF teams also worked in the emergency room at Ahwar hospital.

In ARC MSF teams screened the new arrivals and provided medical assistance and psychosocial counselling to those who needed it. The main pathologies presented were general body pain, headache, violent trauma and accidental trauma.  Other  complaints  were  dehydration,  urinary  tract  infections, diarrhoea  and  skin  diseases.  All are related to the extreme hardships patients suffered during their journey and while disembarking. Violent trauma was due to beatings by the smugglers. Having experienced traumatic events  at  their  place  of  origin  and during the journey, many patients presented  symptoms of depression including sleeping or eating problems and feelings  of  hopelessness  and  guilt  or  psychosomatic  problems such as general body pain, headaches, feelings of suffocation or vomiting. MSF teams provided individual and group counselling.

In June 2008 MSF published a report entitled ‘No Choice: Somali and Ethiopian Refugees, Asylum Seekers and Migrants Crossing the Gulf of Aden.’ As a result of this and other efforts, awareness regarding the situation and support for new arrivals has increased – more humanitarian agencies are present in the area and a reception centre has been established – although it is still insufficient. At the same time, the number of landings at the shores of the Gulf of Aden has decreased. Due to these different factors, MSF was able to hand over its activities to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees and its implementing partners in April 2010.

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