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News: Yemen requests Ethiopia to send special aircraft to repatriate victims’ bodies, survivors of detention center fire

Picture: Carmela Godeau, IOM

By Bileh Jelan @bilehjelan

Addis Abeba, March 10/2021Addis Standard has learnt from sources in Yemen’s capital Sana’a that the Yemeni Ministry of Foreign Affairs has sent an official letter, a copy of which is received by Addis Standard, to its counterpart in Addis Abeba requesting the Ethiopian government to send a “special Ethiopian aircraft to transport the bodies of the deceased as well as the injured” in the fire inside hangar area which is believed to have killed hundreds of mainly Ethiopian migrants and refugees.

The request didn’t disclose the number of the victims who died, injured or survived, but urged the Ethiopian government to send an aircraft to make an emergency evacuation for the injured to receive medical treatment in Ethiopia. The letter cited the lack of proper health facilities and the seriousness of injuries sustained by the victims of the fire.

“Medical Capacities in Yemen have been disqualified and destroyed and devastated to provide adequate and appropriate medical care due to the systematic destruction and comprehensive blockade by the aggression against my country for more than six years,” the letter, signed off by Hussien El-Ezzi, Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs and Chairman of National Committee for Refugees Affairs (NACRA), said.

El-Ezzi further appealed to the Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs “to urgently make the necessary arrangements for the relieving of the injured and transferring the bodies of the deceased in honor of their memories and a condolence for their families pain as dear innocent human lives,” he said, and blamed the IOM saying “particularly in light of the fact that the international Organization for Migration (IOM) unfortunately not fulfilling its duties to Ethiopian migrants while it has its concerns and duties outside its international mandate.”

In a statement it released in the aftermath of the tragic fire, the IOM confirmed that its “personnel were present at the site” when the fire broke out in a hangar next to the main building. “While the cause of the fire is still unconfirmed, its impact is clearly horrific,” said Carmela Godeau, IOM’s Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa.  “We are facing challenges accessing the injured due to an increased security presence in the hospitals. Humanitarians and health workers must be given access to support the treatment of those affected by the fire and others who have been receiving long-term care from IOM and partners.”

The UN body for migration maintained its “health workers and ambulances, and over 23,000 medical items including intravenous fluid, trauma kits and other essentials, were immediately dispatched to the facility and to major hospitals to provide urgent life-saving assistance alongside the Ministry of Public Health and Population.”

Although IOM didn’t mention the number of causalities it said its estimate show “nearly 900 migrants, predominantly Ethiopian, were in the overcrowded holding facility at the time of the fire. More than 350 were in the hangar area.”

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Abdullah, a member of Ethiopian community of migrants and refugees in Yemen, who spoke to Addis Standard said there were no survivors, and blamed the fire on Houthi militia who “responded with opening fire at the gates and throwing grenades inside the hanger to force prisoners out which [initially] resulted in the death of two prisoners. The situation escalated when blankets and other inflamables inside the hangar caught fire quickly spread though the locked closed wing hosting more than 350 prisoners mainly Ethiopians.”

Addis Standard’s attempts at reaching the Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs including its spokesperson Ambassador Dina Mufti to know if preparations were underway to repatriate the victims to Ethiopia were to no avail.

The letter from Yemen’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs offers “condolences to the friendly people and government of Ethiopia on the painful incident affecting a number of Ethiopian migrants after a fire broke out in the shelter center of illegal migrants.” AS

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