UN High Commission for Refugees:More resources needed for Yemen’s refugees [Archives:2007/1035/Front Page]

March 22 2007

By: Mohammed Al-Jabri
SANA'A, March 20 ) The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) said that needed increased resources to cope with refugees living in squalid conditions outside refugee camps, even though it has the second largest budget in Yemen. The annual UNHCR budget allocated for Yemen currently stands at $4.7million. Since January of this year more than 2,500 people have landed on the Yemeni coast, with at least 136 people dead and many still missing have perished on the perilous journey from the Horn of Africa.

The announcement was made during a press conference held on Monday by the UNHCR's Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, Ms. Erika Feller. “I found it very distressing that refugees are not living in refugee camps but in squalid conditions such as those in the Al-Basateen suburb of Aden,” Feller said. She added that it was important to help these people become self sufficient and provide a decent and humane environment. However, financing such initiatives remains a problem. “The resources for refugees in Yemen are insufficient. The UNHCR needs to enter into further discussions with our donor countries as we are very dependent on donors,” she noted.

Ms. Feller and the UNHCR's Geneva-based director for the Middle East and North Africa left Yemen on 21 March after a five-day visit to the UNHCR's refugee camp in Kharaz near Aden, a refugee reception centre in Mayfa'a near the coast, and various other projects. They also met with new arrivals from Africa as well as the Yemeni authorities.

The visit was also intended to raise awareness about the continuing influx of people by sea across the Gulf of Aden from the Horn of Africa and the challenges faced by the government and aid workers in Yemen. “We looked at the problems confronting Yemen in relation to non-Somali arrivals, particularly Ethiopians”, Feller said, adding that, “this movement of people seems to be composed of a mix of people some of whom are genuine refugees seeking protection while others are economically motivated”.

New plan discussed

UNHCR officials and the Yemeni authorities discussed ways to ensure that the needs of genuine refugees were identified and not returned. They put into place the foundations of a plan directed at assisting the government in the management of economic migrants. According to the UNHCR, there are around 100,000 refugees in Yemen, of whom 9,000 live in Kharaz camp and 14,000 in Al-Basateen area. However, Feller said this is not representative and the number could be more. Yemeni government estimates put the figure at more than 300,000 refugees in the country.

1,183 new Ethiopian refugees were registered at Mayfa'a during 2006 alone, and that in a camp that formerly held only 633. “However many Ethiopians don't want to be registered at the centre because they fear immediate deportation,” Feller said.

The UNHCR official said her discussions with the authorities included ways to

to avoid the repetition of an incident involving the shooting of boats carrying refugees bound for Yemen by coastguards. Yemeni coast guards usually fire at boats while pursuing smugglers, which causes deaths among passengers. In 2006, UNHCR records show some 26,000 people making the voyage and at least 330 dying. Another 300 were reported missing and believed dead. Also discussed were measures designed to ensure unimpeded access to refugee centres and the provision of aid workers who could the rehabilitation of terrorised refugees assist who may have stories to tell but who are afraid to them. Such measures were part of a ten-point plan set out by the UNHCR for 2007.

Feller concluded her remarks by saying that she leaves Yemen with a positive impression about the attitude of the Yemeni government towards refugees. Yemen has been a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol.