Five Ethiopians die in Yemeni detention [Archives:2007/1043/Front Page]

April 19 2007

By: Amel Al-Ariqi
SANA'A, April 18 – Five Ethiopian emigrants have been found dead in a Yemeni jail, according to an Ethiopian Embassy official.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak to the press, said the bodies belonged to two young Ethiopian women and three young Ethiopian men. “They were among 100 Ethiopian infiltrators who entered Yemen illegally last week via smuggling boats. Yemeni authorities seized them in Shabwa governorate and sent them to Sana'a to be held in custody.

“According to the medical examiner in Sana'a, the five were suffering malnourishment, which led to their deaths,” he added, noting that emigrants always face risks and inhumane treatment by smugglers, who savagely beat them and steal their food and clothing during their journey to Yemen.

However, the Ethiopian official didn't want to comment on whether African prisoners receive any type of medical care while in detention. “They'll be buried in Sana'a,” he said, pointing out that such an incident isn't the first among Ethiopian detainees. Four months ago, the Ethiopian Embassy in Sana'a received the body of another national who also died in a Yemeni jail.

According to a November 2006 U.N. report, most Ethiopian emigrants travel to the Somali port of Bossaso to take boats across the Gulf of Aden to Yemen, which is one of the few Middle Eastern nations to have signed the 1951 Refugee Convention.

However, the report said, not all Ethiopians emigrants are seeking asylum, as most infiltrate the Yemeni-Saudi borders searching for better employment in the Gulf states. There are no available statistics reflecting the actual number of Ethiopians coming into or out of Yemen.

Many Ethiopians don't want to be registered at the center because they fear immediate deportation, said UNHCR official Erika Feller during her three-day visit to Yemen last month. UNHCR has offered to help screen new arrivals in order to ensure that any actual refugees among them will be detected and not deported. So far, Yemen hasn't accepted this offer, as most Ethiopian emigrants are deported back to their country.

“Emigrants remain in detention at the Passport and Immigration Authority until they receive a passport and tickets, which are at the Yemeni government's expense, and then they are deported to Ethiopia,” Ethiopian Embassy official said.

However, such measures don't stop Ethiopian emigration to Yemen, the official noted, adding, “They return every year. Many times, we find the same emigrants that we deported previously once again entering Yemen illegally.”

In related news, various press reported on Tuesday that scores of Ethiopian army troops arrived at the Yemeni coast aboard two smuggling vessels after fleeing fighting with Islamic insurgents in Somalia.

Some 89 Ethiopians solders arrived at Arqa area in southern Yemen after crossing the Gulf of Aden from Bossaso, Al-Ayyam daily newspaper reported. According to the paper, 49 Somali refugees were aboard the same boats carrying the soldiers, who were wearing civilian clothing.

An Ethiopian army officer was quoted as saying that he and his comrades had fled the ranks of Ethiopian troops in Somalia after a dramatic escalation in fierce fighting with Somali Islamic insurgents.

Ethiopia sent army forces into Somalia last December to back the country's interim government to drive out forces from the Islamic Courts Union, which controlled most of central and southern Somalia for nearly six months last year.

One officer mentioned that many other Ethiopian troops had decided to flee Somalia after they found themselves stuck in a “flaming hell.” Wanting to remain anonymous, the official told Deutsche Press-Agentur that the Ethiopian soldiers were transferred by military truck to Aden on Monday. It wasn't clear whether they'll seek asylum in Yemen or not.

UNHCR's 2006 records show some 26,000 emigrants making the voyage from Somalia, with at least 330 dying while another 300 were reported missing and are believed dead.

UNHCR has registered only 1,990 Ethiopian refugees, all residing in Sana'a and

urban areas, with the exception of 663 Ethiopian Oromo refugees accommodated at Kharaz Camp in Laheg goveronrate.

The Ethiopian refugee community in Yemen also includes some 720 former officers and cadets of the Ethiopian Navy and their dependents, who received prima facie refugee status from Yemeni authorities in 1991.