CAIRO – A fire broke out at a migrant detention center in Yemen’s capital Sana on Sunday, killing at least eight people and injuring more than 170 others, the United Nations migration agency said.

The cause of the fire was not immediately clear, according to the International Organization for Migration. More than 90 migrants were in serious condition and the death toll could climb much more, according to the Houthi rebels who run the center.

The Houthis, who have controlled the capital since the conflict in Yemen erupted more than six years ago, said civil defense teams had extinguished the blaze and investigations were underway to determine the cause.

A UN official said the fire broke out in a hangar near the centre’s main building, which housed more than 700 migrants. Most had been arrested in the northern province of Sada as they attempted to enter Saudi Arabia, she said. The official spoke on condition of anonymity as she was not authorized to brief the media.

“This is just one of the many dangers migrants have faced in the past six years of the crisis in Yemen,” said Carmela Godeau, regional director of the International Organization for Migration.

The narrow waters between the Horn of Africa and Yemen have been a popular migration route despite continuing fighting in Yemen. Tens of thousands of migrants, desperate to find jobs as housekeepers, servants and construction workers, attempt to cross Yemen every year to the oil-rich Persian Gulf states.

Some 138,000 migrants embarked on the arduous journey from the Horn of Africa to Yemen in 2019, but last year that number dropped significantly to 37,000 due to the coronavirus pandemic. More than 2,500 migrants arrived in Yemen from Djibouti in January, according to the migration organization.

These migrants are vulnerable to abuse by armed trafficking networks, many of whom are said to be linked to armed groups involved in the war. This month, at least 20 migrants died after smugglers threw 80 overboard during a trip from Djibouti in East Africa to Yemen, according to the migration agency.

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