Refugees, between sea perils and Yemen’s economic situations [Archives:2003/665/Business & Economy]

September 4 2003

Mahyoub Al-Kamaly
Problems of refuges heading for Yemen from the countries of the Horn of Africa have recently been aggravated, especially for the S
Somali subjects who prefer to escape from the situations in their country in quest of work or getting aid from the UNHCR. But this goal would not be achieved as the Somalis desire after the sea has become more like a mass grave yard for the refugees including children and women.
The Somali seeking refuge in Yemen is considered one of the problems that Sana'a is facing. The total number of refugees, who are officially estimated at more than 250 thousand, do not commit to instructions of the UNHCR and settle in the refugee camps, most renowned the camp of al-Juhain in the governorate of Abyan that houses around 20 thousand refugees enjoying the help of the UNHCR and the Yemeni government.
Government sources say it is difficult for Yemen to protect the Somali refugees in the high seas as they try to approach Yemen illegally and without any permission from the competent authorities. There are specialized Somali boats that are not safe carrying out smuggling operations of thousands of Somalis to the Yemeni coasts and then those would infiltrate inside the country. It is easy for them to camouflage because of their similarity to the Yemeni citizens in the littoral cities.
For more than ten years the Yemeni coasts have been scenes for a successive series of Somali refugees' influx that have infiltrated deep into the country and arrived in the capital Sana'a and other major cities in search for living. Some of them worked in free works or professions and some have practiced handicraft.
Under this situation it is no longer easy to differentiate between the refugees who have fled the civil war in Somalia and the illegal migrants looking for job opportunities. What has increased the difficulty of the situation is the return of Somalis of Yemeni origin. It is for that reason the UNHCR in Yemen has found difficulty in settling the refugees inside the camps for helping them and found out that the spread of the refugees in the Yemeni cities constituted a big challenge to the process of conducting accurate statistics on them.
The UNHCR has conducted a study on the living conditions of the Somali refugees and found out that they do not get enough food stuffs necessary for living and hat there is a shortage in credits allotted for them of food, medicine and money. The Yemeni government has worked with the UNHCR for re-gathering accurate statistics on the refugees in order to manage the process of their assisting them and their stability in camps provided with various services. The Yemeni government also works for issuing a law regulating the process of seeking refuge and granting the refugees many rights in the event of entering the country by getting permission and in a legal way.
The Yemeni government allows the Somali refugees the right to optional return to their country but they prefer to stay in Yemen because of their non-feeling of safety due to the instable situations in their country. Many of Somali citizens have become liable to extortion by smugglers from Somali ships captains who carry hundreds of them every week then they leave them in the high seas and this leads to the drowning of many of them as happened in the last week.
Sources in the Yemeni government say the number of refugees from Somalia is on the increase while the UNHCR does not offer assistance but for a small proportion of them and that are negatively reflected on the Yemeni environment and the national economy that is suffering from many burdens. The sources estimate the umber of Somali refuges at about 175 thousand from among 250 thousand refugees in Yemen from the countries of the Horn of Africa while the UNHCR estimates the number at about 70 thousand most of them from Somalia.