UNHCR Seminar Addresses the Refugee Issue in Yemen [Archives:1998/43/Law & Diplomacy]

October 26 1998

Organized by the UNHCR in coordination with the Foreign Ministry, a workshop was held during 19-21 in Sanaa on ‘Refugee Protection and International Asylum Law.’ 
Mohammed Bin Sallam was there to record the different views on this issue, with which Yemen is increasingly concerned. Here is what different participants said: 
1. Mr. Abdullah Al-Sayidi, 
Vice Foreign Minister: 
“Yemen signed the 1951 International Refugee Accord in 1980 which, along with the 1967 protocol, is considered the main set of international regulations governing asylum and refugee status and issues. 
“Yemen has been following the clauses of these agreements not only from a legal point of view, but first and foremost from a humanitarian standpoint. Yemen welcomed large numbers of refugees fleeing civil strife in the Horn of Africa. Wave upon wave of refugees arrived on our shores from Ethiopia, Eritrea, Sudan, Uganda and even Liberia. 
“This has become quite a big responsibility, which Yemen cannot shoulder alone. This country’s resources simply cannot cope with the thousands of new arrivals, who are in dire need of food, shelter, medical care, etc. Also, we don’t have enough experience to deal with refugees. So we asked the assistance of UNHCR and other international organizations, which have extended much help and aid. 
“There are some people who come as economic migrants. Asylum rules do not apply to them. The problem is seriously compounded by the danger of spreading disease, given that many of these illegal aliens are not medically examined. 
“I call for the deportation of illegal immigrants who are not considered as refugees. The economic difficulties of Yemen, well known to the UNHCR and other international bodies, do not allow any more burdens.” 

2. Onder Yucer, 
UNDP Resident Representative 
“The Government of Yemen has been, for years, implementing a generous asylum policy. Yemen is host to the largest number of refugees in the region. 
In fact, the Yemeni government established a National Committee for Refugees in November, 1995. Also, a special department dealing with refugee issues has been set up at the Passport and Immigration Authority, which coordinates its efforts with UNHCR. All these are signs of Yemen’s commitment to tackling the refugee problem. 
“The importance of this workshop emanates from the fact that Somali and Ethiopian refugees are still coming into the country in large numbers. The UNHCR aims to make those refugees as self-reliant as possible, in a first step towards temporarily integrating them within Yemeni society. At the same time, the UNHCR always bears in mind the long-term solution of voluntary repatriation, when conditions in the refugees’ home countries allow it.” 
3. Dr. Najeeb Ahmed Obeid, Director of Specialized International Organizations and Agencies, Foreign Ministry: 
“This is the first workshop of its kind to be held in Yemen. Such an event is important in that it provides a good meeting forum for exchange of information. 
“The fact that there is no central governmental body to deal with refugee issues, and that UNHCR deals with it on an individual-case basis have created some confusion. There are also problems encountered in providing international food aid to refugee camps. 
“We proposed the establishment of a coordination committee to deal with all the international agencies concerned with the refugee condition in Yemen. I hope the participants in this workshop will endorse the formation of an official apparatus to coordinate efforts. This is quite crucial, in view of the big economic, social and health burdens imposed on society by the continuous flow of refugees.” 
4. Mohammed Dayri, 
Senior Protection Officer, 
UNHCR, Syria: 
“A person is given a refugee status according to the criteria set in the 1951 Accord. A refugee is a person who had to leave his/her country, fleeing political, religious, sectarian, racial or other types of discriminatory persecution. Therefore, the time period during which a particular asylum application is reviewed must be a reasonable one. A person must be given ample chance to explain all the reasons that led him or her to leave their country. The authority studying that person’s case must employ accurate and objective means to determine his or her eligibility for refugee status. 
“Forced repatriation of refugees is strongly opposed by international asylum laws. This must be observed by all signatory countries. Article 32 of the 1951 Accord allows a state to deport a refugee only if he/she breaks the law or becomes a serious threat to national security. 
“Assistance provided by Yemen to the UNHCR is very important. Despite its visible economic difficulty, this country is a host to more than 65,000 refugees. The crisis-plagued countries in the Horn of Africa will continue to be a source of waves of asylum seekers. Moreover, there are refugees residing in Yemen who have come from countries in other parts of the world such as Bosnia, Afghanistan and some Arab countries. 
5. Mohamed Nasser Ba-Janoub, Government Coordinator at UNHCR, Maifa’a Directorate, Shabwa: 
“The Yemeni authorities have perpetrated a heinous crime, violating all human rights principles, by deporting a large number of Oromo people back to Ethiopia. This action also runs contrary to the Arab and Islamic tradition of giving sanctuary to people fleeing in fear for their lives. 
“Those deported people are now being put on trial in Ethiopia. Many of them have already been sentenced to various terms in imprisonment, some as long as 12 years. We have proof of that. 
“Deportation of these people took place despite strong appeals by many international organizations to allow them to remain. All asylum criteria applied to these people. Moreover, the Yemeni government had not allowed them to join refugee camps set up by the UNHCR. The latter had also prevented them from joining camps allocated for Somalis under the pretext that this will create problems. Their other excuse is that the Yemeni government rejected setting up special camps for Ethiopians. 
6. Mazin Abu Shanab, 
Acting Director, UNHCR, Sanaa: 
“The Yemen UNHCR office was first opened in 1987. We enjoy very strong cooperation with the Yemeni government, which is quite seriously working on alleviating the refugees’ suffering. 
“The Yemeni government adopts an open-door policy towards refugees. Such responsible policy is very well appreciated by the UNHCR specially, and the world community, at large.”