Somali surge to Yemeni coasts increases [Archives:2008/1212/Local News]

December 1 2008

Ibrahim Al-Wad'ee and Yemen Times Staff
SANA'A, Nov. 27) Despite the fact that the voyage from Somalia to Yemen usually takes about 36 hours, it is no deterrent to Somalis eager to flee their war-torn country. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reports that more than 38,000 people made the dangerous crossing by boat from Somalia to Yemen during the first 10 months in 2008, nearly 10,000 more people than those who made the same journey during the whole of last year.

Almost 447 Somali refugees have arrived in the provinces of Taiz and Hadramout from Nov. 15 to Nov. 21, 2008. They were gathered and sent to the Al-Kharaz refugee camp in Lahj province, which receives up to 6,000 a month, most of them Somalis, with smaller numbers of Ethiopians and Kenyans.

According to the UNHCR, at least 616 people died or are considered missing since the beginning of 2008 due to the hazardous trip across the sea to Yemen. Often, refugees drown after the boats they were on capsize or smugglers force them overboard and they have to swim to the Yemeni coast.

The number of Somali refugees in Yemen has raised government concerns in a country that already suffers from economic problems, notably due to the war in Sa'ada and the October floods in Hadramout and Al-Maharah, as well as a high rate of unemployment.

Officials confirm that the large surge of Somali and other African refugees to Yemen has put a heavy strain on resources and that the international community doesn't show much attention to solving their problem.

They say that the only solution to the situation, according to the Yemeni vision presented this past October during a UN meeting in New York, is to achieve political settlement in Somalia to prevent a new surge of refugees to Yemen.

UNHCR urged Yemen late last month to continue fulfilling its international commitments toward refugees based on the agreement Yemen signed in 1951.

Over 800,000 refugees from the Horn of Africa -mostly Somalis- live in Yemen, according to Yemeni government statistics. The UNHCR has shown concerns over increasing public resentment toward the refugees, fuelled by the country's difficult economic situation. A UN documentary which dealt with the situation of the Somali refugees in the country has shown rising hostility in Yemeni society toward the refugees. Some of them, including women, have confirmed that they were subjected to aggression by Yemenis.

Dr. Abu Bakr Al-Qirbi, Minister of Foreign Affairs, said that Yemenis already face difficulties in terms of unemployment due to weak capacities of the government and may therefore think that the presence of Somali refugees in the country compounds their problem.

The government of Yemen recognizes Somalis as refugees and issues them with ID cards, co-signed by UNHCR, that legalize their stay, permit freedom of movement and facilitate their access to employment and education. However, many children can not attend school because they do not have birth certificates. They are only issued to children who have a father with an ID card.

Forced to live in squalid conditions and without money, they cannot buy medicine, school supplies often have to beg for food.

Somalia has been deadlocked in a civil war since 1,991 and from that time it is still without a central government. Instead, it has an Ethiopia-backed transitional government that has been clashing with Islamic groups. Because of the civil war, the country has a large diaspora community, one of the largest of the whole continent. Millions of Somalis live abroad, and this excludes those who inhabit the Ogaden region of Ethiopia, Djibouti, northeastern Kenya, and Yemen.