Rights groups say the Iran-backed Houthi militia is responsible for causing a fire in a detention center last week that killed at least 44 migrants, according to The Associated Press, a number disputed by Yemen-based groups.
A local rights group said the Houthi militia was “directly and consistently responsible for the killing and injury of approximately 450 mostly Ethiopian migrants in a detention center, on 7 March 2021, in a fire caused by bombs apparently fired by Houthi forces,” citing witnesses who survived the incident.
Survivors and local rights campaigners say the deadly blaze erupted when guards fired tear gas into the crowded warehouse, trying to end a protest against alleged abuses and ill-treatment at the facility.
The Houthis did not state the cause of the fire, mention a protest or give a final casualty toll.
They also prevented the UN migration agency from accessing injured migrants at hospitals.
The “Government of Yemen has categorically condemned the heinous crime committed by the Houthi militias against African migrants detained in prisons of Houthis in Sanaa,” Yemen’s Embassy in Washington, DC, said in a statement posted on Twitter.
A statement by Yemen’s Ministry of Human Rights read: “We note with great sadness and concern the news of killing and injury to dozens of Africans held in Houthi prisons, and deplore the extreme attempts by Houthis to cover up this horrific incident. There were many fatalities.”
The Ministry of Human Rights added:, "The use of deadly violence by #Houthis against unarmed migrants is a shameful act, a flagrant violation of national & international laws, and a gross offense to the values of our people and to these innocent migrants.” 3/6— Yemen Embassy D.C. (@YemenEmbassy_DC) March 10, 2021
“The Government of Yemen affirms to the international community that the Houthi militia no longer poses a threat just to Yemenis, but also to migrants and citizens of neighboring countries. And swift action is needed to bring those responsible for this crime to account,” the statement posted on Twitter concluded.
A leader of the migrant community in the Yemeni capital on Saturday called for an international probe into the fire.
In a news conference in Sanaa, Othman Gilto, who heads the Ethiopian community, blamed “negligence” by the Iran-backed Houthi militia who control the capital, as well as the United Nations, which has aid agencies present in Yemen.
Some 900 migrants, mostly from Ethiopian, were detained at the facility — including 350 inside a warehouse — when the fire took place on Sunday, according to the International Organization for Migration, adding that it was three times the facility’s capacity.
Michael Aron, the British Ambassador to Yemen, said he was “appalled by the fire at Houthi-controlled migrant center in Sana’a.”
It is the Houthis inhumane treatment of migrants - including the creation of overcrowded conditions at the centre - that led to this terrible loss in human life. It is imperative that the Houthis change their policies towards migrants & provide them the basic dignity they deserve— Michael Aron (@HMAMichaelAron) March 12, 2021
“OHCHR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights] and humanitarian agencies need immediate, unrestricted access to site and those injured. A credible, transparent, independent investigation must be carried out, including a full account of those killed and injured,” he said in a tweet.
With The Associated Press.