Refugees increase this summer, despite sea risks [Archives:2008/1169/Local News]

July 3 2008

By: Wojoud Hassan Mujalli
For The Yemen Times

SANA'A, July 1 – More than a hundred African immigrants, mostly from Somalia, arrive to the Yemeni coast daily, according to the United Nations refugee agency in Yemen.

Aouad Ba-Obaid, a UNHCR field specialist working at the Mayfa'a Refugee Reception Center, confirms that an average of 95 to 120 people arrive to the Gulf of Aden coast daily, despite rough waves and unstable weather conditions.

“Since the beginning of this year, the Mayfa'a Reception Center has registered more than 9,800 arrivals, while the rest have found their way to major Yemeni cities,” Ba-Obaid says, adding that on many occasions, the center receives between 700 and 900 refugees in one day.

He continues, “Compared to past years, refugee voyages have increased notably this year, despite rough sea conditions, particularly in May and June, as people kept taking the chance to cross the rough sea rather than remain in their unsafe hometowns.”

All African refugees come to Yemen via risky voyages over the Red Sea, during which many lose their lives before even reaching the Yemeni coast.

“So far this year, there's been a notable decrease in the number of deaths of African refugees coming to the Yemeni coast, with only around 385 deaths being registered as a result of the risky sea voyages,” Ba-Obaid notes.

Two types of boats come to the Aden Gulf coast: small boats that can carry 25 to 30 people and big boats that carry between 100 and 150. However, small boats are better for making a safer, as well as a faster, journey. In the past, the cost was between $40 and $70, but it's now between $100 and $150.

“The UNCHR team is strong and efficient, working 24 hours a day to meet all of the necessities of the refugees along the coast,” Ba-Obaid says.

The Mayfa'a Refugee Reception Center is located in an isolated semi-arid area in Lahj governorate (approximately 100 miles west of Yemen's commercial capital, Aden) with harsh climactic conditions.

The refugee population permanently living in Kharaz Refugee Camp is comprised of mainly vulnerable individuals who are dependant upon UNHCR assistance, mainly refugee women and children. More than 60 percent of the camp's total population is under age 18, with women heading 50 percent of the families.

UNHCR senior protection officer Samer Haddadin says, “The number of refugee camps remains the same, but a new reception center has opened in Ahwar in Abyan.”

He adds, “Some 3,228 refugees arrived in January and 2,502 in May, while 606 refugees were registered last month, although not daily. The largest boat that came had 95 people in it.”

UNHCR has a responsibility to assist governments in identifying and protecting refugees within migratory flows, so the Yemeni government, represented by the Human Rights Ministry, plans to draft a National Law for Refugees to the Yemeni Parliament to insure more protection measures for African arrivals seeking refuge in Yemen.

“Regarding the national law to protect refugees, the Human Rights Ministry has suggested the Yemeni Parliament form a committee, of which UNCHR is part,” Haddadin said.