Yemenis in Djibouti: Problems, Concerns, and Hopes [Archives:1997/40/Reportage]

October 6 1997

Djibouti is a small country at the Horn of Africa. It lies across Bab Al-Mandeb straits from Yemen. A former French colony, Djibouti became independent in 1977. Its area is around 23,200 sq. km. Yemenis started to immigrate to Djibouti during the early years of this century to escape the harsh living conditions at home. Many of them worked as sailors on French ships, or soldiers in the French army during the Second World War. Some of them obtained French nationality and lived in French colonies or in France itself. Today, Djibouti people of Yemeni origin make up around 12%. They work in different fields, particularly in commerce and small private enterprises.  Imad Al-Saqqaf of Yemen Times flew to Djibouti to talk to them about their concerns. They had this to say:
1. Taher Saeed Saif, President of the Yemeni Expatriate Association (YEA) in Djibouti.  The most important achievements of the YEA is the founding of the Yemeni school including primary and secondary levels of education. Two batches have already graduated from this school. The YEA also helped to repatriate Yemeni refugees who came to Djibouti, escaping the civil war in Somalia.  

2. Sameer Khalid Saeed, Secretary of the Yemeni Expatriates Association in Djibouti.  The YEA in Djibouti needs the the support of the Yemeni government, especially in those activities which are of priority to them. We hope that they’ll be met in the near future.  The Yemeni government should help finance the repatriation of Yemeni refugees in Djibouti who escaped to the civil war in Somalia. The government should also pay attention to the cultural needs of the Yemenis in Djibouti. Educational and cultural publications need to be regularly provided. We need strong exchange in folklore, history, etc. YEA also asks the Government to facilitate the granting of Yemeni personal ID cards through the embassy to Yemenis in Djibouti. YEA requests the presence of a representative from the Ministry of Immigrant Affairs to monitor the December, 1997 elections. of the new YEA board of directors.  Our job is to serve as a bridge to bring Yemen and Djibouti closer and achieve more cooperation and understanding.
3. Mohammed Ali Daoud:  Shopowner. The Yemeni community faces many problems in its daily life. The well-off Yemeni merchants should support the Yemeni schools so that education would be free. We are now preparing for election of the new executive committee of YEA.  
4. Shakeeb Mohammed Sofyan,   Importer/Exporter. Conditions in Djibouti are fine and comfortable. I have opened a general trade shop in Sana’a and I plan to undertake a major investment soon.  Corruption at Taiz and Aden airports is a big problem, and I hope the authorities would change the officials there.  The authorities should also stand by us when we have commercial problems. For example, I have the agency of a Japanese cloth manufacturing company. I had sent them money for a consignment. Now they claim that they are bankrupt, and will only send a small proportion of the original order. I want the Yemeni embassy would help me.

5. Abdullah Ibraheem Aqlan:   School Teacher.  The Yemeni community in Djibouti follows developments at home (Yemen) closely. They are attached and there is a sense of belonging. Following the sad events of the past, now spirits are high and there is optimism.