“Let’s Head for Yemen !” Refugee Problems [Archives:1998/36/Front Page]

September 7 1998

Many people come to Yemen for different reasons. Most who now come are economic refugees from the Horn of Africa – Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia and the Sudan. They come in search of better fortunes, or they use Yemen as a stepping stone for other destinations. They remain in Yemen from a few months to a few years. 
The older refugees are more political in nature. The oldest are the Mujahideen who fought Communism in Afghanistan, under the American umbrella. Some of the Majahideen are Yemeni, but the majority are Arabs and Muslims. 
There are also the political refugees who fled Ethiopia in the aftermath of the collapse of the Mengistu regime. There are also Somali, Eritrean and Sudanese political activists who are tolerated by the Yemeni authorities until they go to somewhere else or find any other solution. 
But the Yemeni civil registry system has not been up to the task. Although there have been major improvements, the level of control of the authorities is far from complete. This makes Yemen a safe haven, for a while. But if these groups are caught, they are deported. Every now and then, the Ministry of Interior announces the deportation of batches of illegal residents. 
  REFUGEES IN YEMEN as of June 30th, 1998   Refugees by Country of Origin Refugees Under UNHCR Umbrella Refugees Assisted or Ignored by Yemeni Officials Somalia 58,214 22,615 Ethiopia 1,342 6,112 Eritrea 2,503 5,430 Iraq 2,107 16,008 Algeria 82 n.a. Sudan 132 12,080 Palestine 2,007 6,009 Other Nationalites 420 826 TOTAL 66,807 63,071   GRAND  TOTAL          129,878   Sources: UNHCR, and the Ministry of Interior; Note:         Some figures were as on 31/3/1998 There is another problem. Many refugees have been able to get Yemeni identity cards and passports. This has posed a problem for Yemen. Three weeks ago, the Yemeni authorities decided not to renew any such passports.
Today, the number of refugees in Yemen is estimated to be around 130,000 (please see adjacent table). This is a big number for a small and poor country, a country with an unemployment rate of 36%. More on Law and Diplomacy Page