The Right to Respond UNHCR Representative Replies to Somali Refugee’s Article [Archives:2001/14/Focus]

April 2 2001

UNHCR Representative in Yemen
Recent issues of Yemen Times have carried several articles by Somali refugees concerning their situation in Yemen and their expectations from UNHCR. For the purpose of informing the public and the concerned refugees I should like to provide a number of clarifications on the points raised in these articles.
First, the request by refugees for resettlement to western countries should be seen in relation to their status in Yemen as well as the eligibility criteria established by UNHCR in consultation with recipient countries. The Republic of Yemen is a signatory to the Convention relating to the status of refugees and assumes responsibility for admission of refugees and asylum seekers to its territory and ensures their protection. In this context, resettlement of a refugee from Yemen to a western country takes place in accordance with the criteria: family reunification, intent to deport a refugee by the host government, women at risk involving women without a male support and life-saving medical cases. Just for the record, from January 2000 to end of February 2001 a total of 273 refugees of different nationalities have benefited from this programme.
Second, registration of undocumented Somali refugees in Yemen has been under discussion between UNHCR and the authorities. Yemen continues to maintain a generous and commendable asylum policy vis-à-vis Somali refugees, and in line with its obligations as a signatory to the refugee Convention, and the competent authorities should register and provide identification papers to them.
Third, relocation of Somali refugees from the present camp in Al Gahin in Abyan to Al Kharaz in Lahj is an issue related to the right of the host government to decide the location of a refugee camp and where refugees should be assisted. Relocation is on a voluntary basis and will affect only those who are genuinely in need of the assistance offered at the new facility. In our assessment, the camp in Al Gahin is not suitable as a human settlement: water has to be trucked in and refugees are living in overcrowded communal shelters or in tents due to scarcity of land. At the new camp – which is adjacent to a village with population of over 300 Yemeni families – individual shelters with plots of land plus health, education and food storage facilities as well as water supply systems have been constructed. There have been a number of claims about inadequacy of food supply and health services for refugees. It is important to mention, that the quantity of food distributed to Somali refugees in the camp not only meets their minimum nutritional intake but also permits exchange of the food commodities with other items not included in the monthly ration. With regard to health, three clinics in the camp, Aden and Sana’a offer basic services including free medicine and referrals to hospitals. In the refugee health clinic in Sana’a alone, 3000 patients are treated monthly.
Finally, in light of the important responsibility of the press in providing objective and accurate information to the public on the situation of refugees in Yemen, I invite reporters from Yemen Times and indeed other newspapers to visit facilities established by UNHCR in Sana’a, Aden and in the camp.