Somalia refugees demand relocation [Archives:2006/972/Local News]

August 14 2006

By: Amel Al-Ariqi
SANA'A, Aug. 13 ) Somalia refugees in Yemen have threatened to restart a sit-in near the office of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Sana'a, if their demand of resettlement in another country was not accepted, said a website on Tuesday.

The Somali Protesters Committee issued a declaration to criticizing Yemen for not enacting a law to arrange the refugees' settlement on the basis of the 1951 international treaty relating to the Status of Refugees that approved by Yemen in 1980.

The delegation pointed the bad circumstances the Somali refuges live in Yemen, as they cannot attend higher education or universities. And the students who are joining the primary schools do not get any aids such as books, pens or uniforms from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which they accused of negligence.

The statement referred to the poor medical state they suffer, particularly those who undergo incurable diseases and need to travel abroad to get treatment.

The statement also mentioned the difficulties facing the refugees who look for jobs.

“There is no job opportunity for the Somali refugees except the jobs that Yemenis considering humiliating jobs like car washing, and shoe shinning. Besides that many Somali women work as housemaids or beggars which subject them to molestation or sometimes to rape,” according to the declaration.

The refugees are undergoing discrimination by some citizens who consider them as lower class and that expose them to many risks like killing, torture, and offensive situations, mentioned the statement.

The refugees can't freely move in Yemeni cities so they are forced to migrate to major cities.

The statement ended by holding accountable the UNHCR's delegate and the UNHCR officers for what's happened and what is going to happen.

During the 1991 Somali Civil War, many Somalis fled to neighboring countries including Yemen and they were automatically granted refugee status by the government.

At the end of October, there were some 79,000 refugees registered with the UNHCR in Yemen, more than 68,000 of whom were from Somalia. Most Somalis live in urban areas, with only roughly 7,500 staying at the Kharaz refugee camp in the Lahj governorate in the country's south.

In 2005 a month-long sit-in staged by about 500 Somali refugees in front of the office of the UNHCR turned violent when security forces clashed with demonstrators who were expressing their demands for improving their current legal, economic and social living conditions, as well as, their forsaken human rights. They complained that they have been badly treated and still they have not received their financial allocations, and they asked for resettlement in a third country where they could have better living situations.

The clashes began on Dec 16 when the refugees were still camped out along the street behind the UNHCR offices from the sit-in that began on Nov 13. Local police intervened to disband the demonstration using water and tear gas, with protestors responding by throwing stones at police. The clashes ended when five Somali refugees and one child were killed, and four others injured. Human rights organizations condemned the incident blaming the UNHCR and the police officers.

A spokeswoman for the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) in Geneva, Astrid Van Genderen Stort, told the media that the demand for resettlement of all the refugees in western host countries was impossible to meet.

“We've explained that we can meet certain demands and certain ones we cannot,” she said. “It's not in our power and not in our mandate.” She noted that the agency was looking into providing greater access to healthcare, but would be better positioned to offer assistance if the refugees moved into camps.

Van Genderen Stort went on to note that the agency would look into cases where refugees met the criteria for resettlement. But while UNHCR can make recommendations in such cases, it is the countries to which refugees are resettled – which have stringent quota systems – that ultimately decide.