UNHCR AND REFUGEES IN YEMEN [Archives:1999/36/Law & Diplomacy]
By Mr. Mazin Abu Shanab
Representative, a.i. in Yemen
(Part 1) UNHCR Mandate / Refugee Convention, Protocol and its Implementation
In 1980 Yemen became a party to both the 1951 Convention and to the 1967 Protocol relating to the status of refugees. UNHCR first established a presence in Yemen in 1987 to monitor and promote the implementation of these international instruments in Yemen, particularly in regards to refugees who originate mostly from neighboring countries. Since then, it has maintained in Yemen, a Branch Office located in Sana’a and a Sub Office in Aden.
Under the above mentioned international agreements signed by Yemen in 1980, UNHCR in Yemen has since 1987 been discharging the following responsibilities:
(a) Monitor and report to the international community the extent to which Yemeni authorities fulfill their obligations under the above Convention and Protocol.
(b) Assist the Government to extend effective protection to recognized refugees. According to Article 31 of the Convention, this means assisting Yemen to maintain an open-door policy towards asylum seekers and to consider their asylum request appropriately.
(c) Cooperate with or assist the Government to provide minimum material assistance to refugees so that they can meet their basic needs in Yemen.
(d) Coordinate with the Government to facilitate the achievement of Durable Solutions for the refugees through:
(i) Voluntary repatriation.
(ii) Self-sufficiency of local integration and
(iii) Resettlement when such opportunities are available from the host countries.
Yemen is one of the few Arab countries which signed such a humanitarian Convention and protocol and it has been hosting refugees/asylum seekers on humanitarian basis despite the economic difficulties it is facing. Such humanitarian actions are highly appreciated by UNHCR.
At present, the Government of Yemen practices an open-door policy towards refugees through the following procedures:
(i) Prima-facie recognition of all Somali asylum seekers.
(ii) Individual refugee status determination of all asylum seekers from countries other than Somalia
(iii) Refugees sur place’ (on the spot) as agreed between UNHCR and Government. These cases relate mostly to specific individual cases who approach UNHCR on their own.
In November 1995 the Cabinet designated a National Refugee Committee comprised of representatives of various Government agencies and to the earlier establishment of a Department of Refugees in the Immigration Department to liaise with UNHCR in the implementation of its protection and assistance programmes. UNHCR Yemen is now able to keep constant contact at Sana’a level with Government agencies which deal with refugee issues mainly Africa Bureau at Ministry of Foreign Affairs which is the counterpart of UNHCR Yemen. Government representatives have also been appointed by the Governors in the Southern governorates to ensure effective collaboration and cooperation at Aden, Lahj and Abyan.
To ensure that there is a common appreciation of the refugee situation in Yemen, UNHCR organizes regular missions with Government representatives to various parts of the country to jointly monitor the situation in the principal refugee entry points i.e. Mokha, Ahwar, Mayfa, and Mukala, and also ascertain when and how many refugees enter the country. In this regard, UNHCR has also offered to or in some cases assisted the Government to organize structures for receiving and transporting refugees to a temporary facility in Al-Gahin camp administered by UNHCR and its partners.
To ensure that refugees are properly identified from illegal immigrants and effectively protected and assisted, UNHCR embarked on a country-wide registration exercise which is carried out on regular basis in collaboration with the Yemeni authorities. Nowadays a joint UNHCR/Government Team is renewing/screening refugees all over Yemen, UNHCR will register and document all refugees who wished to obtain the joint protection of UNHCR and Government.
All data on refugees has been computerized and the last registration records show around :-
(i) 62,000 Somalis in urban areas
(ii) 15,000 Somalis in Al-Gahin camp
(iii)3,000 different nationalities
The registration process is still in progress and it is expected to be concluded mid of November 1999.