Yemen focuses on Somali refugees [Archives:2004/801/Community]
ADEN, 20 December (IRIN) – “I tried to get on deck and I was beaten. That's how my arms were broken. It was hot and crowded in the bottom of the boat and I thought I was going to suffocate,” Mohammed Noor, a Somali refugee now living in a camp in the Yemeni province of Aden, told IRIN.
He paid US $100 to smugglers to get him to Yemen, involving a 24-hour journey from the Horn of Africa.
The young man described the gruelling journey in which he travelled to Bosaso on the coast of Somalia and then to Bir Ali in Yemen, 300 km across the Gulf of Aden. “There were 118 people on board that night and three of them died,” he explained. But Noor said his journey was worth it.
Having been at the camp for only a month, he said his life was much better now. “I left Somalia because of the war. I could not take it any more. There was tribal fighting in my village,” he said.
Without her husband, but carrying three children in her arms, Fatimah Alim made a similar journey across the sea to Yemen. “I want to go to Saudi Arabia. My husband is working there,” she told IRIN, adding that she would not go until she could get enough money together for the journey.
Asked if she was aware that she could be deported from neighbouring countries, she replied: “Yes I know. It has happened to friends and they keep trying to cross the border. Some have managed to get in so there is some hope for us,” she explained.
Others were not too keen on staying in the camp “I miss my homeland and I want to go back,” a mother of four, Khadija Mohammed, told IRIN.
Originally from the Somali capital, Mogadishu, she had been living in the camp since 1991.
For many Somali refugees fleeing their land, where there has been no central government and sporadic fighting for more than a decade, the journey to a better life is often not what they expected it to be.
“Smugglers just throw some of the refugees off the boats when they see the port is near so they are not caught. Some drown,” External Relations Assistant at the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Abdul Malik Abboud, told IRIN in the Yemeni capital, Sana'a.
“It is very difficult for the Yemeni government to control the 2,800 km coastline on its own without being supported by the world community.
Yet, even though the country is poor, it is still accepting new arrivals, compared to other Arab nations who do not accept as many refugees,” he added.
Somalis are the largest refugee community in Yemen with some 47,000 co-registered by the government and UNHCR. Some 10,000 are living in camps and the rest are in cities such as Aden and Taiz in the north of the country.
There are also small groups of Ethiopian, Iraqi, Palestinian, Eritreans and Sudanese refugees, but Somalis are in a very favourable position when it comes to granting refugee status as it is given on a prima face basis, as Yemen is signatory to the 1951 Convention on the Rights of Refugees.
The moment Somalis arrive, if they register, they are given an identity card. This entitles them to access health facilities, education and food supplies originally provided by the World Food Programme (WFP).
UNHCR plans to open six permanent registration centres for refugees across the country to avoid any discrimination and to ensure they can be protected until the situation in their countries of origin allows them to voluntarily repatriate.
The Kharaz camp, 120 km from the southern city of Aden, is home to some 11,000 mainly Somali and Ethiopian refugees, according to UNHCR.
It is the biggest camp in the country and although it is fairly well resourced, conditions can be harsh. “The weather is worse in the camp and there can be dust storms which cause havoc,” UNHCR field assistant Mohammed Tahir al-Jaseem told IRIN in Aden.
“The other camps were closer to the road, so they could travel to get work,” he added, referring to previous camp locations as refugees are only able to get irregular daily labour. Refugees living in cities can find work as domestic labourers, on farms or as tailors.
In order to avoid any disputes between the local population and the refugees, food assistance is also offered to some 1,200 people from vulnerable groups of local people immediately outside the camp.
Supported by the UN, two international and two local NGOS, refugees are given different identity cards to the local population so they can collect food aid on a monthly basis, which includes oil, flour and sugar supplied by WFP.
Water and electricity have also been extended to nearby villages. “This reduces any tensions and prevents interference in the camp,” al-Jaseem added. With some 800 houses on site, the camp is well served with water points, food distribution and rubbish collection.
There is also a community centre, a workshop to teach carpentry skills, schools and clinics. Some refugees end up staying here and others move on into villages to find work or leave for neighbouring countries such as Oman or Saudi Arabia in search of a more prosperous life, but are often deported, al-Jaseem explained.
UNHCR registers refugees at the Maifa reception centre on the Yemeni coastline where most enter the country and then provides transport to the camp as well as meals. “We have had an additional 150 families this year coming to the camp and we need to build more accommodation for them,” he said, citing future needs.
As in other camps worldwide the issue of protection for refugees is of great importance and although sexual violence is not common in this camp, according to aid workers, domestic violence is. “We try and get the adults to reach a solution to end the problem and have been successful in most cases,” said one female worker at the camp.
Ultimately what most of the refugees want is resettlement, aid workers say. The UNHCR resettlement programme specifically targets groups looking for family reunification, women at risk, unaccompanied children and those with special needs on medical grounds in conformity with UNHCR resettlement criteria.
“I want to go to Europe. That is where I see my future,” Somali refugee Mohammed Qudsi told IRIN at the camp.