AL-MUKALLA, Yemen: The Iran-backed Houthi militia is recruiting African migrants and refugees in Yemen to bolster its ranks, which have been eroded by fierce fighting with government forces and heavy airstrikes by fighter jets of the Arab coalition.
Yemeni military officials, human rights activists and journalists say the Houthis have intensified the recruitment and conscription of African migrants and refugees, sending them to fiery battlefields to fight their opponents after suffering heavy losses over the past two years, mainly in the central province of Marib.
The Houthis have also turned to refugees and migrants after Yemeni tribes in areas under their control resisted their demands to provide soldiers to the battlefields.
“The Houthis recruited the Africans after the deserts of Marib swallowed their fighters,” an unnamed Yemeni military official told Arab News, adding that the militia armed the migrants and deployed them to key battlefields in Jouf , Saada, Shabwa and the Al-Kasara front of Marib.
Two months ago, the Yemeni army killed around two dozen African migrants who were fighting alongside the Houthis in the northern province of Jouf, the military official said.
Many more have been killed, injured or captured in Marib, Saada and recently in the southern province of Shabwa.
Thousands of Houthis have been killed in fierce fighting with government forces in Marib province since early last year, when rebels renewed an offensive to control the energy-rich city of Marib, the last major stronghold. urban area of the Yemeni government in the north.
To compensate for their heavy losses, the Houthis recruited migrants and refugees, children, civil servants and also deployed fighters from Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan and Iran.
“The Houthis mobilized African migrants and fighters from South Africa, Afghanistan, Lebanon and Iraq,” the military official said.
Thousands of migrants from countries in the Horn of Africa cross the coast of Yemen every year despite tighter security measures along the Saudi border.
The United Nations International Organization for Migration said 27,693 migrants arrived in Yemen last year, compared to 37,535 in 2020 and 138,213 in 2019.
Most migrants use Yemen as a transit point before heading to Saudi Arabia.
Yemeni military officials say some African migrants were lured into fighting alongside the Houthis through financial incentives, while many others were forcibly recruited and sent to battlefields.
The Houthis have never denied conscripting African migrants, and militia media have repeatedly broadcast funeral processions for Africans killed in the fighting.
On February 18, Houthi-owned Al-Masira released a video showing a number of Houthis and Ethiopians in Sanaa attending a small funeral ceremony for Qasem Ahmed Youssef, an Ethiopian national killed in action.
After the funeral, an armed Houthi figure urged reluctant Yemenis to follow the Ethiopians into war.
“We say to these Yemenis in the homes, here are the Ethiopians who give their souls in the cause of God in order to exalt the word of God and support the oppressed,” the Houthi figure said.
In May last year, dozens of Houthi officials and members of the Somali community in Sanaa attended funeral prayers for Mohamed Saleh Sheikh Taher, a Somali national killed in action.
The Houthis praised the “courage” of the Somali and thanked him for fighting opponents of the movement.
On Sunday, Information Minister Muammar Al-Iryani slammed the Houthis for exploiting the poverty of African migrants, adding that the latest funeral processions are “desperate attempts by the Houthis” to augment their depleted numbers.
“The Houthi funeral of Qasem Ahmed Youssef, an African immigrant, and the recruitment of his relative, confirms that the Houthis are recruiting African immigrants and refugees to carry out suicide attacks on various fronts, in a war crime and a violation of human rights. international laws and covenants,” Al-Iryani said on Twitter.