No end in sight to Ethiopian protestWeek 2 for sit-in [Archives:2004/713/Front Page]

February 19 2004

By Peter Willems and
Mohammed Bin Sallam
Yemen Times Staff

A sit-in by Ethiopian refugees in front of the United Nations Higher Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) headquarters in Sana'a is into its second week with no end in sight.
About 200 Ethiopians have been camped out in front of the UN building since Feb. 12, and say they won't move into a “tangible solution” is found to their concerns.
“We are planning to spend every day and night here at the headquarters until UNHCR finds a solution for our refugee problem here in Yemen,” said protester Adane Balachaw. “UNHCR has yet to give us any solution.”
The Ethiopians, who have been long-term residents of Yemen, but who are still formally classified as refugees, have set up a make-shift kitchen as part of their protest.
They say during their first week, they received no help from NGOs concerning food, shelter or medical assistance during their sit-in except one short visit from Red Crescent.
They represent, at least in part, Ethiopians who were once part of the Ethiopian Navy but defected from their country in May 1991.
According to one refugee, Assefa Tamer, Ethiopian officers and sailors handed over several warships to the Yemeni government after they fled their country.
This means the Ethiopians feel they can't go back to Ethiopia, for fear of repercussions from the Ethiopian government.
Tamer also said that it is unfair that over 600 Ethiopians living as refugees in Yemen for over a decade, have not been given any solution to their plight as refugees.
The refugees want to be granted citizenship in Yemen so that they are allowed to integrate fully into Yemeni society.
Full integration would offer them benefits such as legal identification, travel outside the country, and, potentially better access to jobs.
Some of the protesters say, if they can't have Yemeni status, they'd like assistance to resettle outside of Yemen, particularly in developed countries such as such a the United States, Canada or European countries.
Others say the bigger issues is not just wanting to get to the rich west, but it's more to get better treatment while in Yemen.
And their sit-in shows they're looking more than ever to the UNHCR.
“UNHCR didn't give us any solution for our problems in the last 13 years,” said Tamer.
But the UNHCR has rejected the claims that they have not fulfilled their duties to help the Ethiopians, because, according to international conventions, the UNHCR role is simply to assist and monitor the host country.
“It's the responsibility of Yemen's government, not ours,” said Saad Al-Attar representative for the UNHCR.
And he said that Yemen's government may simply not be able to provide for its refugees very well.
“Yemen, as a country with limited financial means and infrastructural means, has done its best. It is also clear that there are other obligations which Yemen stopped meeting, since it's a Third World country,” he said.
The UNHCR also notes that resettling refugees in developed countries is difficult and takes time, especially refugees who were once affiliated with political or military movements.
Officials at the UNHCR have promised to deliver a complete legal response to the complaints of the protestors.