Yemen to have a National Law for Refugees [Archives:2008/1167/Local News]

June 26 2008

By: Hamed Thabet
SANA'A, June 22 ) The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees agency in Yemen said on Saturday that it will institute new measures, include issuing new IDs, as well as promoting a new national law for refugee protection to ensure better quality of life for refugees in Yemen.

“For the first time, the Yemeni Parliament will discuss a draft, including several items to protect refugees in Yemen,” stated Nabil Othman, UNHCR deputy representative in Yemen. He added that the law is still just a draft.

“A committee comprised of UNHCR and the Human Rights Ministry will create these laws and then present them to Parliament as soon as possible. The draft also will include some new laws, while at the same time renewing recent laws,” noted Samer Haddadin, senior protection officer for UNHCR in Yemen.

The draft law will include a definition of refugees, the process for refugees, refugees' observance toward the Yemeni government and vice versa, and in which aspects the government will take responsibility for caring for refugees. Haddadin notes that many other laws will be added to the new draft law – called the National Law for Refugees – and soon presented to the Yemeni Parliament.

Haddadin explained that the Yemeni government is who will decide whether to have this law or not, while UNHCR certainly will support the Yemeni government in all it wants in order to have the new law.

Yemen is one of the countries that signed the 1951 convention relating to the status of refugees, in which Yemen committed to host refugees and provide them protection, enabling them to share the same rights as its own citizens.

Since the 1990s, Yemen has received thousands of refugees; however, in recent years, the number of refugees has doubled due to poor political and social conditions in the Horn of Africa. Although the Yemeni economy is hurting, it still opens its doors to refugees.

Difficulties integrating, discrimination and lack of protection were and still are the main issues about which African refugees in Yemen complain.

Othman notes that most urban refugees face problems regarding housing, such as rent issues and finding accommodations. However, “There's a lawyer for each problem and that lawyer's duty is to determine a solution between the refugee and the Yemeni citizen,” he adds.

The Human Rights Ministry is calling for a special law to identify refugee status in Yemen, maintaining that many problems will be solved through such a law. “Currently in Yemen, there's a big problem and misunderstandings because only some refugees consider themselves refugees in Yemen, while a great number see Yemen as a stop on their way to other countries,” explains Sara Al-Arasi, a member of the Human Rights Ministry's international law department.

Although the total number of refugees registered with UNHCR in Yemen is 126,500, this doesn't reflect actual numbers. According to Othman, “We know Yemen has a great number of refugees, but we can't determine the exact number. For this reason, we want them to come to our offices to register and get new identification cards.”

He continues, “These new ID cards will guarantee their protection, whereas their current cards can expire, which is why they face many problems with Yemeni security because they don't renew them.”

The current identification card only bears the UNHCR logo, but the new ones will include the Yemeni government logo as well, which means it will be similar in status to a Yemeni citizen's ID card. As Othman explains, “This will help refugees because when security forces or soldiers see the Yemeni logo, they'll show some respect.”

Othman says new registration centers will open soon so that refugees can obtain the new ID cards or card renewals, noting that this effort will be done in cooperation with the Yemeni government.

“Here in Yemen, there's cooperation with the Yemeni government in order to protect all refugees from harm and discrimination, but this requires funding and it's well known that Yemen currently is facing economic challenges,” Haddadin points out.

According to Amin Al-Yusufi, head of the Human Rights Ministry's Africa department, refugees encounter many problems, beginning with their transport to Yemen on smuggling vessels.

“Catching smugglers is one of the Yemeni government's hardest jobs because of Yemen's lengthy coastline and also because smugglers know where and when they can reach the coast,” Al-Yusufi says, adding that, “Yemeni coast guards aren't qualified or trained to catch professional smugglers, which is why Yemen now seeks international assistance in catching such smugglers.”