Refugees in Yemen A Forced Return Journey [Archives:2001/20/Reportage]

May 14 2001

Jalal Al-Sharaabi
Yemen Times
“There are about 60,545 registered refugees in Yemen, most of whom (56,524) are Somalis” said the representative of UNHCR in a seminar held in Sana’a last Wednesday. Next comes the Eritreans- 2,566 refugees, Ethiopians- 1,203, Palestinians- 45, Sudanese- 91 and Iraqis 85. These figures were reported by the UNHCR in 2000 and 2001, but in fact the actual number of refugees are up to double the figures claimed.
The refugee issue in Yemen has assumed awful dimensions due to both the economic and political situation resulting from the civil war in their own land. Yemen signed the Geneva Agreement related to the refugee conditions in 1951 and a similar Protocol in 1967. However, there has been no serious commitment to implementing them. Refugee camps are still in very bad condition lacking basic health, educational, nutrition, etc. services.
In the seminar organized last month to discuss conditions of the refugees, accusing fingers were pointed at the UNHCR for carelessness. The participants said that they could not live under such deplorable conditions, demanding dignity of life or being returned home. Refugees were more agitated by the government’s plan to move them to another camp in Luhj which is 20 km away from the nearest populated area.
Although many refugees are not registered at the UNHCR, they have been able to get travel and residence documents. Since this is against the law, the Yemeni government has recently formed an ad hoc national committee consisting of officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Interior, Passport Authority, Central Organization of Political Security and Governors whose governorates host a good number of the refugees.
Statistics show that the budget of operations and activities concerning rehabilitation of the refugees for 2001 is estimated at 3.6 million dollars. Besides, there have been generous contributions by the embassies of Italy, Japan, the Netherlands and the European Committee. In spite of this, the health and educational conditions of refugees have badly fallen below acceptable limits. In this context, press sources in Aden revealed, in the beginning of 2000, that more than 5 refugees were afflicted with AIDS. Besides, there are still 800 Eritrean refugees in Al-Makha without aid after the UNHCR’s decision to stop its aid to them at the end of 2000. And out of 925 refugees in Al-Kharaz-Luhj only 125 have been accommodated.
An official report on refugees in Yemen stated that there were 63,929 recognized refugees from different nationalities through 1/10/1999-26/9/2000 plus 32,862 registered Somali refugees in the urban areas. Today, refugees are concentrated in Jaheen Camp-Abyan, Kharaz Camp-Luhj and Mayfaa-Shabwa.
Somali refugees fled their country after the eruption of the civil war in 1991. Since then they continue to come to Yemen to escape conflicts between the Somali political factions. More than 87% of the Somali refugees in Yemen originally came from the southern and middle parts of Somalia, and 13% came from the North of the country. The Eritrean refugees who came to Yemen during the Independence War have been placed at the Al-Khokha port on the Red Sea. There is also a group of Ethiopians consisting of police officers, students and navy officers who arrived in Yemen after the collapse of Mangesto’s government.
The continuous suffering of refugees may lead them in the long run to a forced return, which is forbidden by international law, if they do not find a decent life here. The government, as well as the UNHCR must admit that they have not paid refugees their due attention.