World Refugee Survey 2009: Yemen
Yemen hosted 145,700 refugees, including more than 133,000 Somalis. Yemen has recognized Somalis as prima facie refugees since the 1988 Somali civil war. Non-Somali refugees must apply with Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Yemen for refugee status and often suffer from differential treatment, including harassment and refoulement. The majority of Somalis live in the Basasteen neighborhood of Aden, the Kharaz camp in Lahj, and in the city of Sana’a. The Government claims that there may be as many as 700,000 total Somalis living in the country.
Around 70,000 Iraqis lived in Yemen prior to the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq. Since the invasion, an estimated 11,000 Iraqi refugees have arrived in Yemen
Each year, smugglers carry thousands of African refugees, mostly Somalis, from their homelands across the Gulf of Aden to Yemen. Smugglers charged Somalis up to $150 for the passage to Yemen. The journey can take anywhere from 12 to 36 hours, and, when confronted by the Yemeni coast guards, smugglers often force their passengers overboard.
2008 Events Summary
In 2008, smugglers brought around 50,000 Somalis and Ethiopians across the Gulf of Aden to the coast of Yemen. At least 590 drowned and 359 remain missing. Some 360 had died or gone missing during the trip by May, roughly the same number of Somalis killed in the passage in all of 2007.
Yemen deported at least 290 Ethiopian asylum seekers shortly after they arrived in the country, and regularly detained Ethiopian arrivals and blocked UNHCR access to them. Yemen also reportedly deported Sudanese refugees, denied admission to Iraqis including some with family already in Yemen, and deported students from unlicensed religious schools for allegedly fostering extremism. According to Government statistics, it returned 1,300 asylum seekers during the year.
During the year, Yemen detained 66 refugees for illegal entry as well as other for other crimes or for threatening national security, most of whom it released by year’s end.
In one weekend in January, over 130 Somali refugees died off the coast of Yemen when their smugglers’ boats capsized. In one case, a wave swamped a boat as smugglers were trying to force 135 passengers overboard, drowning of 114 Somalis. The following day, 16 Somalis drowned when their boat capsized. The Somalis had paid $150 apiece for their passage.
Later that month, Germany donated $75,000 worth of supplies to the Refugee Reception Center in Maifa’a, on the Yemeni coast. The donation provided packages for all arriving refugees with supplies including blankets, sheets, dates, T-shirts, soaps, and veils for women.
In February, Yemen’s Ministry of Human Rights drafted a bill which to clarify Yemeni asylum law and give the Government more control over refugees, but did not announce when it would present the bill the legislature for ratification.
Although 46 security guards surround Kharaz camp at all times, UNHCR had to suspend their operations inside the camp for two weeks in March after receiving threatening letters and phone calls from local tribesmen.
In April, the Lahj province council announced the impending completion of a UNHCR health clinic and school in the Kharaz refugee camp.
Also in June, UNHCR representatives in Yemen announced they would issue new ID cards for registered refugees in the country. The new cards will bear not only the UNHCR logo, but also the Yemeni government logo, making them similar to ID cards held by Yemeni nationals. The new refugee ID cards also do not need to be renewed, and UNHCR hoped that they would offer permanent protection for the refugees in the country and provide the Government with a more accurate estimate of the country’s refugee population. UNHCR also announced that it would work to promote Yemen’s new refugee legislation.
Forty-eight Somalis died in September when a boat carrying 124 across the Gulf of Aden broke down. Another boat picked up the smugglers, who promised to return with a recharged battery. Instead, they left the passengers drifting for 18 days. The Yemeni Coast Guard eventually rescued them, but four more died in a Yemeni hospital.
In October, the Yemeni Interior Minister ordered the military to close border crossings to Ethiopians and Eritreans.
In December, the Yemeni coast guard rescued 255 Somali refugees in the Abyan province after the refugees’ boat was destroyed. The local government offered shelter to the refugees, which were found on the beaches of the eastern province. Two days later, Yemeni coast guard ships seized a boat carrying Somali refugee headed for Abyan. Yemeni officials transferred the ship’s 101 passengers to a UNHCR-supervised refugee camp.
Law and Policy
Yemen is a party to the 1951 Convention relationg to the Status of Refugees (1951 Convetion) and its 1967 Protocol, but it does not have a law addressing the treatment of refugees or asylum claims, nor does it have a system for providing protection for refugees. While Yemen continues to grant prima facie refugee status to Somalis arriving in the country, the Government has no system to determine the refugee status of non-Somalis.
The Yemeni Constitution prohibits the extradition of “political refugees” and grants the President authority to grant “political asylum.” The 1991 Law on the Entry and Residence of Aliens (Entry and Residence Law) governs all foreigners and generally makes no exceptions for refugees, although it implicitly exempts them from its residence requirements “by virtue of international conventions which the Republic is party to.”
A 2000 Presidential decree established the National Committee for Refugee Affairs (NCRA), but the NCRA holds no formal power and can only consult on refugee policy.
UNHCR conducts individual refugee determinations for all non-Somalis, despite some objection from the Government. Government agencies often do not recognize UNHCR certificates given to non-Somalis, which increases refugees’ risk of arrest, detention or refoulement.
Yemen requires all foreigners to register with police or immigration authorities within a month of their arrival in Yemen.
A lack of training of Yemeni police officers places refugees living in and outside camps at a high risk of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) and crime. Unaccompanied minors in urban areas are particularly vulnerable.
Detention/Access to Courts
The Constitution reserves to citizens its guarantee of personal freedom, but grants all persons protection from arrest without cause, the right to hear charges against them before a judge within 24 hours of arrest, and the right to inform others of their detention.
The Government does not always permit UNHCR to monitor detention, but does provide bi-weekly reports on detainees in remote areas. The International Committee of the Red Cross also attempts to monitor detention facilities, but does not have complete access. When UNHCR is aware of an asylum seeker in detention, the Government usually allows UNHCR to perform refugee status determinations, and frequently released refugees when UNCHR screening was completed.
While Yemen does not provide refugees with independent tribunals to challenge their detentions, refugees can sometimes make use of national courts to do so. In such cases, UNHCR or the Government provide counsel. However, sometime Yemeni judges refuse to apply applicable international laws.
Recognized refugees also have access to courts for matters other than detention. In Sana’a, UNHCR provided refugees with attorneys.
Freedom of Movement and Residence
Yemen does not require refugees to live in any particular place but all foreigners had to register with authorities within a month of arrival.
To travel within Yemen, refugees must prove that they have resident status or refugee identification cards at government checkpoints, overseen by Yemeni security officials. At checkpoints, army and security forces require foreigners and refugees to show resident status or refugee identity cards, refuse passage to those without them, and detain unregistered refugees. UNHCR sometimes obtains their release if they issue refugees certificates but this is often conditional upon their transfer to the Kharaz camp.
The 1994 Republican Decree on Entry and Abode of Foreigners authorizes the Minister of Interior and Security to grant international travel documents to refugees. Until 2004, the Government granted travel documents to refugees wishing to make the Hajj, but since then has only provided one-way laissez-passer that does not allow re-entry into Yemen.
Right to Earn a Livelihood
The Constitution reserves to citizens the right to work but does limit its prohibition of the general confiscation of property, but Yemen informally tolerates the employment of refugees. Still, employers reportedly refuse employment for refugees unable to produce legal documentation. The Entry and Residence Law requires those employing foreigners, with no exception for refugees, to “obtain the prior approval of the Competent Authorities” and submit to the Aliens Registration Department or the local police station a declaration on a special form within two days of hiring and releasing foreigners.
The 1991 Presidential Legislative Order to promulgate the Labour Code places numerous restrictions on the employment of foreigners, with no exceptions for refugees, and prohibits employment of foreigners who enter the country for reasons other than employment. The Code requires employers to apply in advance for permission to bring foreign workers into the country, and requires certification from the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labour that there were no Yemeni workers available for the position. It also caps the employment of foreigners at 10 percent for every firm.
African refugees typically work informally in the cities but jobs are scarce in the Lahj governorate near Kharaz camp. Many unemployed Somali refugees request repatriation while others use smugglers to go to Saudi Arabia for work.
Yemenis often employ female refugees as domestic workers, but working conditions are poor and reports of SBGV are frequent.
UNHCR issues certificates to Ethiopian refugees’ employers, certifying their right to work under international law but this was not official. Somalis with government-issued identity cards could apply to the Ministry of Labour for work permits. Iraqis, as Arab aliens, have the right to work, and many open businesses.
Public Relief and Education
Schools permit enrollment of refugees, but, due to limited facilities, could not provide services for all refugee children. In the Kharaz camp, UNHCR provides education through the eighth grade in two schools, one using the Yemeni curriculum and the other a Somali-Yemeni curriculum. The quality of instruction is poor, however, and the dropout rate was high, especially for girls. UNHCR also provides refugees in the Kharaz camp with food rations, but they are often insufficient.
In Sana’a, UNHCR provides medical referrals; health services to HIV/AIDS patients, women, and children; financial aid; vocational and computer skills; and day-care centers with meals and Arabic classes. Most refugees cannot afford access to hospitals and disabled refugees have extremely limited access to schools, hospitals, and other social programs.
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