Immigration Authority Sometimes Left in Dark [Archives:1998/36/Law & Diplomacy]

September 7 1998

Colonel Mohammed Ali Al-Ozair is the director of the Refugees Bureau at the Passport and Nationality Authority.
Q: Could you briefly speak about the tasks carried out by your bureau?
A: Most of the work is really done by the bureau’s branches in various parts of Yemen. The Aden branch, for example, is responsible for receiving the refugees and giving them temporary shelter.
Q: What kind of assistance does the Yemeni government provide to the refugees?
A: The Yemeni government gives a lot by way of aid. Refugees in Yemen are allowed to live and work normally and mix with the populace, not restricted to refugee camps.
Q: How many refugees, registered or otherwise, are there in Yemen?
A: There are about 36,000 Somali refugees, some are registered with UNHCR but not with us. The total number of refugees, however, exceeds 100,000 from different African countries.
Q: Isn’t there any form of coordination between your office and the UNHCR?
A: Frankly speaking, the coordination is minimal and only in the matters that the UNHCR deems suitable. It is not done in the areas we would like to share with them. The UNHCR is sometimes quite evasive in these matters.
Q: Is the Jahin refugee camp appropriate as a shelter?
A: No, it is not suitable. It has no running water and there is a public road that passes through it. We recommended a better site at Kharaz for UNHCR. This issue was discussed more than once by Yemeni and UNHCR officials, but no final decision has been reached. The UNHCR does not wish to move the camp to Kharaz. I don’t know why.
Q: What problems do you face in dealing with refugees?
A: Work is limited in our office due to a marked lack of financial resources and facilities. If a representative of the Refugee Bureau wants to visit the refugee camp in Khawkha, for instance, he is often impeded by lack of proper transportation. We have to use public transport.
Q: How many refugee camps are there in Yemen?
A: There are two such camps – Jahin and Al-Khawkha. The latter houses about 2,500 Eritrean refugees who entered Yemen in the 1970s. There used to be a camp for Ethiopian refugees, but was closed by UNHCR.
Q: Why is the Kharaz site better than Jahin?
A: Kharaz is a fortified area that can be easily guarded and has plenty of water available. The site used be a military barracks, the buildings just need a little renovation to be ready to house the refugees. The Jahin camp, on the other hand, is a group of tents pitched in a desolate land lacking in water resources.
Moreover, Kharaz has a school and a health clinic.
Q: How many people have applied for political asylum during the first half of this year?
A: I don’t know about this issue, but you can ask other government bodies such as the Foreign Ministry or the security.
Q: Are there any plans to provide better facilities for refugees in the future?
A: Most of the people taking refuge in Yemen come from Somalia, Eritrea and Ethiopia. I hope all the problems that made them flee their homes will be addressed so that they can be peacefully repatriated. Our bureau doesn’t really have specific plans for the future, but other bodies do.
Q: Does the flow of refugees into Yemen present serious problems for the country and its people?
A: There is no doubt that there are some harmful effects. Yemen is now going through difficult economic circumstances, which will be further complicated by the increasing numbers of refugees. They enter the country through many thinly policed border and coastal gateways. Some of these people are infected with serious and contagious diseases such as AIDS, posing real health risks to society.
Q: It is often rumored that there are Arab refugees whom the Yemeni government tries to deliberately hide from international organizations and the media because of pressures by certain Yemeni political parties. Is this true?
A: This is the first time I have heard of such an allegation. It is completely false.
Q: What would you like to say to UNHCR?
A: First, I’d like to thank UNHCR for all their efforts to take care of the refugees. But I hope that they give the government all the important information on the refugee situation in this country. The UNHCR is best equipped to carry out this task.