Discussions on strife of Ethiopian refugees continue [Archives:2004/720/Local News]

March 15 2004

By Peter Willems
A meeting between officials of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and representatives of around 200 Ethiopian refugees camping out in front of the UNHCR headquarters in Sana'a did not produce a solution that could end the sit-in.
According to UNHCR officials, the organization tried to persuade the refugees to take part in procedures required for the UNHCR to help refugees try to gain citizenship in Yemen or in another country.
“Our objective was to convince the group to fill out registration forms that would allow UNHCR to work on trying to get the refugees resettled,” said Zivan Damato, Administration Officer at UNHCR in Sana'a. “UNHCR proposes a third country resettlement solution, and if it doesn't succeed, the other option available is local integration with collaboration of the Yemeni government.”
The refugee representatives, who were first asked by UNHCR officials to fill out the registration forms at the end of February, refused to take the offer a second time soon after the meeting ended last Tuesday. They claim that they have participated in similar procedures before and have not seen results that have met their demands. The refugees have lived in Yemen for 13 years and are seeking a permanent home in Yemen or elsewhere.
“What we saw was nothing new,” said one of the refugees involved in the sit-in, Assefa Tamer. “We have filled out registration forms many times in the last 13 years, and the registration forms do not prove that we will get a tangible solution. The job of UNHCR is to seek a permanent solution for refugees, but they have not put out enough effort to do so.”
The refugees claim that they chose to carry out their sit-in next to UNHCR's headquarters, which has lasted over a month, because after living in Yemen as refugees for over a decade with no clear future on gaining citizenship, they want the UNHCR to find a solution.
UNHCR holds that its job is to assist the refugees to receive basic rights and freedom in Yemen and encourage the Yemeni government to offer them citizenship or help them gain resettlement in another country. UNHCR also says that it is up to the Yemeni government or other governments to decide if the refugees can receive citizenship.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which has a department dealing with African refugees, said that the Ethiopian refugees can remain in Yemen as refugees but did not propose offering them citizenship.
Some believe that it will be difficult to end the deadlock between the refugees participating in the sit-in and UNHCR. If the Yemeni government is not willing to offer the refugees citizenship, it will be difficult to achieve resettlement in another country: There are 22 million refugees around the world and only 3,000 succeed in being resettled each year.
The refugees are also members of Ethiopian Naval and Civilian Refugees and represent around 600 Ethiopians that defected their country in 1991. They turned over 14 warships to the Yemeni government when they arrived. Dealing with refugees who were once in the military is considered a sensitive issue.
“As the relationship continues to improve between Ethiopia and Yemen, the Yemeni government will consider working with these refugees as very sensitive,” said a foreign diplomat. “Other countries will probably consider them in the same way as well.”