Refugees in Yemen: Humanitarian Gesture or Economic Burden? [Archives:1998/36/Law & Diplomacy]

September 7 1998
UNHCR Viewpoint
Mr. Mazin Abu-Shanab, chief of the UNHCR sub-office in Aden and acting resident representative.
Q: Could you briefly name the main UNHCR tasks in Yemen?
A: UNHCR was invited by the Yemeni government when huge numbers of Somali refugees started coming in, escaping the civil war in their country. We came to help the government deal with the refugee problem.
There are some 9,000 refugees in Jahin camp, Abyan, in addition to almost 38,000 other refugees living in various parts of the country. Refugee registration started in November, 1997 and continued until March, 1998, with the help of the mass media such as Yemeni radio and the BBC.
Q: What sort of services does UNHCR provide to refugees?
A: UNHCT wholly assists vulnerable refugees living in Al-Jahin camp and those in urban areas. With the help of a number of implementing partners such as as Radda Barnen and the British ICD, a local NGO named PAD, Triangle (French) and COOI, UNHCR provides refugees with health, education and training.
Q: Are the refugees trained to be integrated within society?
A: Despite the lack of financial resources, the refugee situation in Yemen is better than in many other countries, as attested to by many international visitors. This does not mean, however, that the refugees live in luxury in Yemen. We try our best to provide at least basic services such as health and vocational training.
Q: What sort of skills are these refugees taught?
A: In the Jahin refugee camp, for example, there is a community center and three income-generation projects where the inmates are taught simple handicrafts such as basket weaving, etc. The German GTZ last year provided, with the financial assistance of the UNHCR, these refugees with 30 scholarships to be mechanical and electrical technicians.
Q: What do the refugees at the camp get by way of food and other basic needs?
A: According to international regulations, refugees must get regular meals that provide at least 1,940 calories per person per day. Each individual in the Jahin camp gets more than 2,000 cal. a day. They are also provided with bedding and basic household utensils, and other non-food items.
Q: How much does the UNHCR spend on refugees in Yemen?
A: The UNHCR’s annual program in Yemen costs about $2.5 million. This is with donations by foreign governments and international organizations.
Six months ago, the Italian government, for instance, donated $250,000 worth of medicines to refugees in Yemen. Another $250,000 of medicines is coming in September.
Q: What are the aid projects implemented by NOGs to help the refugees?
A: For example, Radda Barnen of Sweden is now building a school at the Jahin camp in addition to providing rehabilitation and physiotherapy for disabled children.
Food provisions and sanitation in Jahin are managed by Partners for Development of Yemen. The French Triangle is responsible for income generation, social activities and rehabilitation training.
There are several health care projects being implemented in the refugee camp to control TB and other serious diseases. There are also other health-care projects in the Basateen area in Aden and in Sanaa. All the abovementioned activities are financed by UNHCR.
Q: Are new refugees screened for AIDS and other contagious diseases?
A: All refugees are screened for common diseases before being admitted into the camp. However, we do not have adequate mdical testing facilities for AIDS at the camp. So anyone suspected by the camp’s doctor of having a serious medical problem is immediately referred to a public hospital.
Q: Are refugee students allowed to continue their studies in public schools?
A: In coordination with the Yemeni education authorities, students finishing their studies at the camp are allowed to do higher education at state universities. This process was started about a year ago.
Q: How are the refugees received when they first arrive?
A: Asylum seekers are referred by the border or by the coast guard authorities to UNHC.
As soon they are found to be genuine asylum seekers, they become the responsibility of UNHCR.
Q: How long does it take for this process to be completed?
A: It takes a few days to decide if the person concerned is eligible for refugee status. Many of the people who have been coming from Ethiopia recently are really economic migrants. So we reject their applications.
Q: Do you give the registered refugees ID cards?
A: UNHCR issues two types of card. The first is issued to refugees living in urban areas to allow them to travel within Yemen. There is also the ” Ration Card” for people at the refugee camp, which does not give them the right to move around. If they wish to visit another governorate, they have to get a special document issued by UNHCR and the Yemeni Immigration office.
Q: What about refugees from other Arab countries?
A: Since Arab citizens can enter Yemen legally, they become the government’s responsibility – from the legal point of view. UNHCR however, is also willing to provide all possible assistance for people coming from Arab countries in coordination with the authorities if the person concerned meets the criteria for refugee status.
Q: You have started a process of repatriating Somali refugees. How many have been sent home so far?
A: About 650 Somalis were repatriated, and 101 more will go back soon. By December 31, 1998, UNHVR anticipates that about 1,000 refugees will be assisted by UNHCR to return home volutarily.