Somali refugee in Kharaz refugee camp in Yemen.

Somali refugee in Kharaz refugee camp in Yemen.

By Filip Rames                                                                                                                        UNV Volunteer Associate Protection Officer with UNHCR in Yemen

About 35 000 men, women and children have landed on the shores of Yemen since January 2009 and have increased the number of Somali residents in Yemen by up to 120 000 refugees. (Estimated number of all Somalis living in Yemen reaches 700 000.) It is expected that the number of new arrivals by the end of the year will exceed last year’s number of 50 000 people.

Half of the newly arrived people originate from Somalia, mainly from Mogadishu, Shabelle, Hiraan, Bay and other regions of the southern and central part of Somalia. Somalia has been facing serious security instability since the early 90s. The governmental forces have been fighting insurgents who have been trying to establish Somalia as a radical Islamic country introducing the Islamic Shari`a law and refusing all western values.

The other half of new arrivals come from Ethiopia, particularly from the Somali region of Ethiopia. The policy of the Government of Yemen (GOY) is very clear and divided into two basic approaches. Thanks to historical relations and partnerships with Somalia, all Somali new arrivals are recognised by the GOY as refugees on prima facie status. All non-Somali new arrivals approaching Yemen illegally are considered as illegal migrants and are often not even granted their right to seek asylum. They are detained and deported immediately.

The issue of illegal immigrants and refugees is well documented and the UNHCR is helping the GOY to cope with the big numbers of new arrivals. The UNHCR provides people with food, shelter, legal and social assistance, health and other basic assistance. The UNHCR is also continuously advocating by the GOY for the right to seek asylum for non-Somalis.

As one of the poorest countries in the Middle East Yemen does not have much to offer to people as they arrive looking for refuge. Yemen is facing serious security problems in the northern governorate Sada where the GOY has been unsuccessfully fighting the Al Huthies insurgents since 2004. There is also an internal conflict in the southern governorates, demanding the secession of Yemen into Northern and Southern Yemen as it had been before the unification in 1991.

The security situation in Yemen is further complicated by the presence of Al Qaeda. Recently Al Qaeda issued its support to the secession movements in order to destabilise the Government of Yemen and establish Islamic Yemen.

The situation in Yemen is characterised by the discrepancy between the natural Muslim hospitable culture and the lack of financial and job opportunities. It is very difficult if not impossible to predict the next developments in Yemen. Something has to change inside the society to fulfil the potential capacity amongst themselves.

The people of Yemen need to better understand that it is their own responsibility to improve the current situation in all regards. They have to overcome their traditional tribal conflicts and find their own way out together.

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