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Shadow Report (4): Migrant and Refugee Access to Clean Water and Sanitation in Yemen and Libya

Shadow Report (4): Migrant and Refugee Access to Clean Water and Sanitation in Yemen and Libya


War-torn countries and regions that suffer from poverty and competition over natural resources including water pay a heavy price in terms of the lack of access to clean water and sanitation services. This is particularly true for migrants in countries such as Yemen and Libya. The two countries have been going through political unheaval and internal conflict since 2011, one consequence of which has been damaged water and sanitation infrastructure, a major setback and a health hazard for people, including migrants, denied or deprived of access to clean water and sanitation.

Ironically, both Yemen and Libya have become transit or destination countries for African migrants seeking to escape conditions in their own countries. In Yemen, most migrants try to cross to Saudi Arabia in their search for jobs and better opportunities. I In Libya, migrants trying to reach Europe often fail to do so.  When they do succeed, many fall victims to traffickers and/or end up in detention centres where they have no access to clean water or to any services at all. That assumes, of course, that they have survived the initial gauntlet of airstrikes or ambushes many migrants face when trying to make their way safely through the ongoing conflict in either country.

It is of note if somewhat surprising that the number of migrants crossing Yemen is larger than the numbers crossing to Europe. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), 138,000 migrants (90% from Ethiopia) have crossed the Red Sea to Yemen, while only 110,000 migrants crossed the Mediterranean to Europe in 2019. Noting that many of these migrants end up in Saudi Arabia, where they face numerous challenges, IOM has welcomed an agreement between the two countries which will enables up to 100,000 Ethiopian workers to obtain work permits in the oil-rich country.[1]

IOM has noted that migrants face life-threatening challenges in Yemen and Libya. In the case of Libya, where the conflict has been intensifying since 2014, according to IOM, resources have become scarce and overstretched as international assistance has become limited.[2] Despite Libya’s ongoing conflict, the UN estimated in 2016 that some 107,000 migrants from the Horn of Africa ended up there even. While many migrants aspired to end up in a Gulf country, an increasing number have chosen Yemen as a destination country.[3]

This report aims to provide an overview of challenges facing migrants in Yemen and Libya in relation to access to clean water and sanitation services. The report highlights the overall situation of water and sanitation services in the two countries in light of the ongoing conflicts and the UN’s role in making sure people in Yemen and Libya have access to clean water and sanitation services.

To read full shadow report, click here.

[1] The German News Network. The number of migrants who crossed to Yemen is bigger than those who crossed the Mediterranean (Arabic). Available at:

[2] IOM UN Migration. IOM Libya Brief. Available at:

[3] IOM UN Migration. Overview IOM Migration Activities in Yemen. Available at: