Ethiopian refugees released [Archives:2004/728/Local News]

April 12 2004

By Peter Willems
Yemen Times Staff

The majority of Ethiopians who were rounded up three weeks ago at the end of their sit-in at the UNHCR headquarters in Sana'a were released on the morning of the 9th April.
A government official said that the refugees, who camped out next to the UN building for over five weeks, were released “after they agreed not to carry out another sit-in or disturb any foreign mission in Yemen.”
According to the official, the refugees were allowed to go free in small groups at different times, but until now, a small group of refugees that led the sit-in remain in jail, refusing to strike a deal with the authorities.
Government authorities forced the refugees to end the sit-in early on the morning of March 20. The government said they dismantled the protest because UNHCR had to close its headquarters due to security concerns and it affected other refugees in Yemen who needed assistance from UNHCR.
Over 120 Ethiopian refugees were reported to be jailed, while over 50 Ethiopian women, who came to UNHCR headquarters later the same morning to search for the protesters, were detained. The women were released from jail after one week.
Representatives of the refugees who participated in the sit-in have said their protest was to gain citizenship in Yemen or in a third country. They chose to protest next to UNHCR's headquarters because after living in Yemen for 13 years with no clear future in sight, they wanted UNHCR to find them a solution.
UNHCR said that it is a facilitator, able to offer assistance to refugees seeking basic rights and freedom in Yemen and to encourage the Yemeni Government to offer them citizenship or help them gain resettlement elsewhere.
One Ethiopian refugee who was involved in the sit-in said Yemeni policemen used batons, water hoses and tear gas to force the refugees to end their protest. He said that several men and women were injured after being beaten.
Other witnesses have said that after government authorities warned the refugees to leave the premises, the protesters yelled and threw rocks at the policemen, which forced the authorities to remove the protesters physically.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which has a department dealing with African refugees, has said that the Ethiopian refugees can remain in Yemen under refugee status. During the sit-in, UNHCR attempted several times to help the refugees find another country to gain citizenship, but the protesters refused to cooperate and demanded that UNHCR find a permanent location.
The protesters who participated in the sit-in belong to Ethiopian Naval and Civilian Refugees. They are part of around 600 Ethiopians who defected from their country in 1991. They handed over 14 warships to the Yemeni Government when they first arrived in Yemen.
Most governments believe that dealing with refugees who were once in the military is a sensitive issue.