Yemen is a key transit country for the many people trying to reach Saudi Arabia and Oman. We discussed this during the 3rd European Humanitarian Forum in the session “Vulnerable migrants in forgotten crisis and fragile environments – protection and humanitarian assistance: a case study in Yemen” in Brussels. Although conflict, food insecurity and political instability affect both Yemeni and non-Yemeni populations, migrants, refugees and asylum seekers represent the most marginalized and vulnerable groups in Yemen.


The total number of migrants in Yemen tripled from 2021 to 2023, from about 27,000 to over 90,000. By 2023, there were about 308,000 migrants and 72,000 refugees and asylum seekers in Yemen, most of them from Ethiopia and Somalia. 

With limited prospects for economic self-sufficiency and severe difficulties in accessing basic public services, most of this population lives in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions. In addition, migrant, refugee, and asylum-seeking women, including girls, face high risks of gender-based violence, including sexual violence, forced marriage, forced labor, and abuse.

With the exception of Somali nationals, who are granted refugee status, those from other countries are considered asylum seekers or illegal migrants.

This distinction comes with a number of extremely negative consequences for the migrant population. Indeed, migrant persons have limited access to health services, as hospitals and health facilities in Yemen, after 9 years of conflict, struggle to meet the needs of the local community, and limited resources and capacity present a challenge to extend support to the migrant population. In addition, migrants are often unable to access legal protection, which exposes them to the risk of exploitation, abuse, arrest, detention, and deportation, without access to adequate legal representation.

Many of the populations on the move are exposed to exploitative practices by smugglers and traffickers, including extortion. The risk of abduction by trafficking networks and criminal gangs is also high, and sometimes migrants are even recruited by armed groups to fight in conflict. Women and children in particular, during the journey are highly vulnerable to physical and sexual violence, perpetrated by smugglers, traffickers, and sometimes other migrants. 

By 2024, the needs and vulnerabilities of this population are estimated to increase, due to a lack of housing, employment, social protection, and social inclusion. Given this situation, already during  the first two months of 2024, INTERSOS Mobile Response Teams (MRTs) in Yemen have assisted nearly 3,600 migrants in the southern regions of Aden, Abyan, and Shabwa.

INTERSOS has been providing assistance to migrants in Yemen since 2017. We operate through mobile teams composed of social workers, nurses and lawyers, distributing energy-rich food and basic necessities, ensuring medical first aid, psycho-social support, legal assistance and medical referrals to specialized health services. Unaccompanied minors intercepted by the mobile teams are also referred to Al Takaful center, a reception center also run by our staff.

Addressing migrant response is not without challenges. INTERSOS Migrants Response Teams (MRTs) face insecurity when moving within conflict zones, as well as checkpoints and curfews, delays in obtaining movement permits and bureaucratic obstacles. Moreover, limited funding presents a significant challenge, constraining organizations’ ability to provide essential services and support to migrant populations, thereby exacerbating their vulnerability.

To address the pressing needs of migrants, it’s crucial to prioritize immediate humanitarian assistance by enhancing coordination among stakeholders and expanding access to basic services, particularly for vulnerable groups. Advocating for policy reforms and providing legal aid are essential for protecting migrants’ rights and ensuring their well-being. Additionally, addressing root causes through sustainable development initiatives is crucial for long-term solutions to the migrant crisis.