Houthis set on fire Ethiopian refugees in Sana’a, spark outrage

By | Rachel Brooks
March 9, 2021

Image credit: “Reception center in Dolo Ado” by EU Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.

This image was created by World Food Programme and shows a woman and girl in a reception area in Dolo Odo, which is a ethnic Somali region of Ethiopia. 

Agence France Press reported in 2014 that refugees from Ethiopia, who have been affected by drought,  set sail for Saudi Arabia in hopes they will come to a prosperous country, but end up in Yemen. 

The Ansar Allah movement, more commonly known as Houthis, set fire to Ethiopian refugees from the Oromo Nation. The testimony of those who were destined to die in the flames set by Houthis was related to an Ethiopian journalist by those who escaped. The events were then broadcast via BBC Arabic.

The refugee burning sparked outrage among the international affairs community, despite receiving limited coverage in the western press. Asaad Hanna, a fellow of Columbia SIPA, expressed ire that the Houthis, who have already ravaged their nation in Yemen, would set blazes to 100 people from a foreign nation.


“No one is talking about how more than 100 Ethiopians were burned to death in Yemen by Houthi after they gathered them in a close shelter,” wrote Hanna, via his Twitter, on March 8.

“Most of those Ethiopians are refugees in Yemen and registered under the protection of the United Nation.”

Assad Hanna then shared the footage obtained from the scene that broke down the brutal reality of these underreported events. For said UN-protected refugee status did not stop the Houthis from crowning Yemen in a wreath of black smoke that rose ominously over the skyline.

Bleak buildings stood like islands in the waves of smoke, a testament in their rubble to how the Houthis have plagued the region. The smoke clothed the sky in the black velvet of hate, as sirens wailed dirge-like in the background. Cameras then cut to the wail of women, joining the chorus of sirens, as crowds likewise chant in protest. They gathered around a car that is in the view of the cameraman, and the visuals were limited.

The scene changes again, to the aftermath of a murder. A small structure was piled with bodies. A chorus of wailing voices adds context to the blurry footage. The dead lay tangled together at the feet of the mourners, some facing up at the camera. People pull on the hands of the dead as if they will wake. Perhaps they are sifting through the piles of human wreckage, as the Houthis left loved ones stacked like so much trash to be collected.


Ethiopian refugees stormed the U.N. High Commissioner’s Office in Sana’a, fists raised, voices raised even higher. In one force, they demanded justice and understanding of the brutality witnessed by the cameraman in Hanna’s obtained footage.

Arab News reported that Yemen’s government and human rights activists urged a probe into the fatal fire.The African migrants were set blazes to inside a Houthi detention camp in Sana’a on Sunday, March 7.  The Addis Standard, a newspaper out of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, analyzed that more than 350 primarily Ethiopian migrants were burned in the Sunday flames. Addis Standard cited “Abdullah”, an organizer for the Ethiopian migrant community in war-decimated Yemen, as their source. Abdullah stated that there were “no survivors” of the fire that was lit in a hangar inside the Houthi-controlled Yemeni Immigration Authority, or Al-Jawazat. The holding facility had a total of 900 migrants crammed into the premises, with at least 350 reportedly trapped in the hangar that was set to blazes. Addis Standard cited IOM UN Migration News Arabic as its source for this statement.