Head of Mandate Refugees Association in Yemen warnsDire circumstances will force refugees to become involved in acts of terrorism [Archives:2008/1188/Local News]

September 8 2008

Amel Al-Ariqi
SANA'A, Sept.7 ) The head of the Mandate Refugees Association in Yemen, Abiy Abeb, revealed his grave concern over the dire situation of most African refugees in Yemen. “I'm afraid that an unstable security situation and poor economic circumstances in Yemen are creating an environment in which African refugees' rights can be easily breached. This environment also may force some of them to become involved in acts of terrorism,” he warned.

According to Abeb, African migrants, including Ethiopian and Somalis, who flee their countries in massive numbers every day are facing illegal detention in Yemen. “Recently many of those Ethiopians and Somalis who have been given asylum in Yemen, have been arrested and put in prison by members of the Yemeni security force. Many of them have spent several days in prison without charges, which is against both Yemeni and International Law,” he added.

Abeb confirmed that some of these refugees, especially those of Ethiopian origin, were likely to be deported. “One Ethiopian refugee who was granted asylum in Yemen in 1999 suddenly disappeared in 2001, leaving his wife behind. We later found out that he was deported by Yemeni immigration authorities,” he recalled.

He pointed out that the Yemeni government recognizes Somalis prima facie, so Somalis do not need to undergo individual status determination. However, newly arrived Ethiopians are considered illegal and subject to deportation, without any distinction made between migrants and asylum seekers. “These deported people may face assassination or torture in their homeland,” said Abeb.

In this regard, the official news agency Saba reported on Friday that the Yemeni government is holding 35 Ethiopian migrants and is planning on returning them to their homeland. The agency quoted an unidentified security source who declared that the refugees had entered Yemen from the Horn of Africa in an attempt to flee their country, but had been captured and faced extradition by the Yemeni Immigration and Passport Service.

“Detention and deportation are not the only risks facing African migrants,” said Abeb.

“Due to their poor economic situation and difficulty to integrate in Yemeni society, many of these refugees lose hope. Such circumstances may force some to engage in terrorist acts against the Yemeni state or people, or they may become involved in inner tribal conflicts to guarantee themselves incomes and aid that they cannot obtain from either the government or the U.N. refugees' agency,” he forewarned.

In the Arabian Peninsula, Yemen is the sole signatory to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol.

Many international reports have declared that the increased influx of African immigrants to Yemen will cause an extra burden to the state, which is considered one of the poorest countries in the Middle East.

Upon arrival to Yemen, the refugees are given two choices: either be taken to the Kharaz refugee camp in the middle of the desert in the Lahj governorate, or make it on their own in Yemeni cities. Most pick not to go to the camp, as living conditions there are extremely difficult. Others make their way to poor urban areas, such as the Safia neighborhood of Sana'a or the Basatin slum in Aden. “The camp refugees get UNHCR aids including shelter, food and protection, while the urban refugees have no access to such basic aids,” Abeb confirmed.

According to the UNHCR, more than 22,532 people have made the perilous Gulf of Aden crossing aboard smugglers' boats from January to August this year. More than 165 people have died trying to make the voyage this year and 220 have gone missing.

It is expected that the influx of African refugees will continue as long as conflict, poverty and drought persist in the Horn of Africa.

“It is obvious that Yemen, under the current circumstances, is not able to provide these immigrants with protection and basic needs, so the UNHCR needs to consider the option of resettling these refugees in a third country,” Abeb concluded.