IOM Yemen: The Importance of Needs Assessments to Assist Vulnerable Migrants in Crisis

IOM Medical staff check the condition of stranded Ethiopian migrants © IOM 2015
  Date: Thursday, May 4, 2017
By Chissey Mueller, IOM

The ongoing conflict in Yemen has induced large-scale displacement of the Yemeni population, and affected thousands of migrants in the country or those arriving to the shores of Yemen albeit of the ongoing conflict. Although the civil war has ravaged Yemen since 2015, the country still receives a monthly average of 10,000 irregular migrants from the Horn of Africa.

During February 2017, more than 2,800 migrants were registered in Yemen by the International Organization for Migration (IOM). The migrants who had come to Yemen, traveled overland from Ethiopia through Djibouti and Somalia and took a relatively short, one or two hour boat ride to Yemen.

While some migrants’ stories were more harrowing than others, the majority of them had suffered a series of human rights violations. Some migrants were victims of child abuse or domestic violence in the community of origin. Others became victims of gender-based violence while en route to Yemen or while held in captivity by smugglers in Yemen. Several migrants have become victims of human trafficking in Yemen, mainly forced labour by smugglers. Many migrants were abducted, held in captivity, and tortured by smugglers and other criminals for monetary extortion. 

Given the mixed nature of the migratory flows to Yemen, it is particularly important to conduct proper screening processes and assess migrants in need of assistance and protection in order to ensure the delivery of tailored services.

As the MICIC Guidelines indicate, assessments to determine migrant-specific vulnerability and needs that may arise from gender, age, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, immigration status, or other characteristics, are crucial to ensure access to assistance without discrimination (Guidelines 11).

In order to identify the most appropriate assistance and course of action, IOM staff interview every migrant who seeks assistance. Interviews normally take an hour, are on a case-by-case basis, and elicit information about the individual’s circumstances in their community of origin, while traveling to Yemen, and upon arrival in Yemen, as well as what the individual requires and desires next.

The IOM screening process reveals the diversity of the migrants’ personal backgrounds and their subsequent migration experiences. It also allows IOM to analyze data trends. Over time, IOM assessments have shown that the majority of migrants are predominantly males from Ethiopia, of which more than 20 percent are unaccompanied boys. Most migrants leave their country of origin intent on transiting Yemen in order to reach Saudi Arabia or another Gulf country.

The diverse migration experiences affect the migrants’ immediate, medium and long-term needs. Immediate needs range from drinking water and basic food to medical care that heal respiratory infections, skin diseases, gunshot wounds and lacerated skin. 

Medium term needs include information about available services in Yemen, temporary shelter, clothing, hygiene items and food. Long-term needs of the most vulnerable migrants include family tracing and reunification, counseling, continued medical care, evacuation and reintegration support in the community of return.

In order to alleviate these needs, IOM Yemen provides a number of services – such as screening to detect vulnerabilities, the provision of live-saving assistance and evacuation assistance.  

In 2016, 21,000 migrants – most of whom had been in Yemen for less than a month – received some if not multiple forms of humanitarian assistance through the IOM Migrant Response Points in Aden and Sana’a and medical clinics. Mobile teams were furthermore present along the coastal roads.

In light of the heavy fighting going on in Yemen, many migrants are seeking evacuation assistance to return to their countries of origin. Collaboration with immigration officials in Yemen and embassy officials of the country of origin are paramount to pre-departure evacuation logistics.

Sea evacuations from Yemen are the most viable mode of transportation because of the conflict’s effects. After evacuation from Yemen, IOM’s office in Djibouti provides transit support and IOM’s office in Ethiopia provides reception assistance. The most vulnerable migrants, such as victims of trafficking, receive reintegration support from IOM once in their countries of origin.

In order to determine when and how IOM should involve government and civil society partners so that they receive the appropriate assistance in Yemen or upon their return to their community of origin, complementary referral mechanisms have been established.

The challenges posed by Yemen’s migration crisis, which is perpetuated by the displacement caused by the ongoing conflict as well as the large ongoing migratory influxes from the Horn of Africa, underscore the importance of assessment tools and referral mechanisms for migrants, to enable IOM and other partners to continue providing properly tailored humanitarian assistance in the midst of a complex context.   


Chissey Mueller is a Migrant Assistance and Protection Officer with IOM Yemen