Refugees and UNHCR:The issues [Archives:2004/716/Front Page]

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March 1 2004

The Yemen Times has received letters from both the Ethiopian refugees staging a sit-in at the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) headquarters in Sana'a and the UNHCR office.
The refugees wrote about their complaints against the UNHCR concerning their situation, and UNHCR rejected the refugees' claims in its response.
Below are some of the complaints from the refugees and UNHCR's reply.

Deportation
Refugees: The refugees have received pressure from UNHCR, under the influence of the Ethiopian Embassy, to return to their country of origin where they defected in 1991. They are in fear of being forced to return and face dangerous consequences.
UNHCR: Under Article 33 of the 1951 Convention, refugees are protected from forced repatriation, and the Yemeni government has assured UNHCR that it will not be applied. Repatriation can only take place voluntarily, and an estimated 150 of the refugees protesting have voluntarily returned to Ethiopia.

Work permits
Refugees: Even though it states in the Convention that there should be provisions for refugees for wage earning employment, the refugees in protest have not been given work permits. Illegal employment forces refugees to accept low wages while working under intolerable working conditions.
UNHCR: Due to the absence of administrative structure and procedures, granting work permits has been limited. When the national refugee law is established by the Yemeni government, UNHCR will continue to provide legal assistance to refugees to acquire permits. The majority of the refugees protesting have been employed during their stay in Yemen.

Inequality
Refugees: Other refugees are given better attention and treatment than the Ethiopian refugees. Others getting preferred treatment include refugees from Somalia, Iraq and Sudan.
UNHCR: All refugees should be treated equally regardless of their race, nationality, age, gender or religion. UNHCR urges refugees to bring their cases to its office to investigate and address each case.

Discrimination
Refugees: Refugees face discrimination and harassment on streets, at work and at school. Discrimination they have to tolerate is based on race and religion.
UNHCR: UNHCR is not aware of persecution or discrimination being practiced in Yemen against the refugees. It has not been reported to the UNHCR office.

Arrests and detention
Refugees: It is common for the refugees to be arrested or detained, and they have to pay bribes to be released. A number of the refugees have disappeared and have never been accounted for.
UNHCR: Within the national security climate in Yemen, undocumented refugees may face arrests or detention. UNHCR has made an effort to register and document refugees that have refugee status, and it has received approval from the Yemeni government to register and grant refugee documentation to the refugees in protest.

Yemeni nationality
Refugees: UNHCR relinquished the responsibility of protecting the refugees and helping them find citizenship. The responsibility was handed over to the Yemeni government, which is overburdened dealing with refugees and displaced Yemenis. UNHCR should take on the task of finding a solution for the refugees.
UNHCR: Host countries that have signed the 1951 Convention must grant refugees refugee status, access to employment and other basic rights. Most of the basic rights have been granted by the Yemeni government. Granting nationality is determined by a host country, so it is the responsibility of the Yemeni government.

Resettlement
Refugees: UNHCR intentionally and repeatedly avoided fully assisting the refugees seeking resettlement in another country.
UNHCR: Resettlement is a possible solution, but it is difficult since very few refugees are accepted in places available. Forms can be provided by UNHCR for those interested and will be forwarded to resettlement countries. UNHCR is willing to offer necessary assistance.
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