Human Right Watch ~ Background: Migrants and Asylum Seekers Arriving in Yemen by Sea
Since 2007 well over 100,000 people have embarked upon a perilous journey, hoping to reach the shores of Yemen in boats that are put to sea from the Somali port city of Bosasso and the coast of Djibouti further west. Nearly all of them are Somali and Ethiopian nationals. Many hope only to pass through Yemen, traveling onwards to find work in the more prosperous economies of Saudi Arabia and beyond. But many others are fleeing war or persecution and seek protection in Yemen as refugees. Some make the journey for a combination of reasons, having found neither safety nor a way to make ends meet at home.
The number of people making this journey has increased dramatically in recent years. In 2008 a record 50,000 asylum seekers and migrants arrived on Yemen’s beaches, up from less than 27,000 the year before. That record had already been broken by the end of September 2009, with 50,486 recorded new arrivals in just nine months—a 50 percent increase over the number of arrivals during the same period in 2008.
The people these numbers describe are participating in one of the most dangerous—and most ignored—international migrations ongoing anywhere in the world. This report documents abuse faced by people attempting the crossing. It also describes the abuses endured by Ethiopian asylum seekers who arrive in Yemen to face official discrimination and systematic government efforts to arrest and deport them back to Ethiopia.
Somalis Arriving in Yemen
The Yemeni government recognizes all Somalis who arrive in the country as prima facie refugees—meaning they are not individually required to prove that they are eligible for refugee status—and they are free to remain in Yemen. There are no reliable statistics on the number of Somalis living in the country. UNHCR has registered some 150,000. Some Yemeni government officials, without citing any empirical basis for their figures, believe that the true number of Somalis living in the country could be several times higher, since an unknown number do not bother to register even though they are automatically entitled to refugee status. At the same time, many Somalis simply pass through Yemen, moving on to other
countries in search of work or for other reasons.
Somalia has been without a functioning central government since 1991. Since the end of 2006 many Somalis have seen the already-precarious situation in their country take a dramatic turn for the worse. The years since then have been characterized by brutal warfare, and every party to the conflict has committed war crimes and other serious abuses. housands of Somalis have been killed and millions rendered destitute by war and drought.
Vast numbers of people, including most of the population of the capital, Mogadishu, have been forced to flee their homes. All told, some 1.3 million Somalis are displaced insideSomalia and the country has generated tens of thousands of refugees in 2009 alone. The Somalis who arrive in Yemen every year are part of that larger exodus.
Ethiopians Arriving in Yemen
During the first 10 months of 2009, more than half of the people who arrived in Yemen by boat were Ethiopians—35,272 out of 63,718 recorded arrivals. Most estimates, including those of Ethiopian community leaders in Sana’a, put the total number of Ethiopians living in Yemen at between 10,000 and 20,000. These include refugees, asylum seekers,undocumented people in Yemen, and others—mainly female domestic workers—who arrive in Yemen legally to work.
There is a widely held perception, fueled in part by the government of Yemen, that the Somalis arriving in Yemen are all refugees while the Ethiopians are all illegal migrants in search of work. But this is a gross oversimplification. It is probably true that a large majority of the tens of thousands of Ethiopians who arrive in Yemen by boat are primarily motivated by the search for a job. For precisely that reason most travel onwards to Saudi Arabia and beyond almost immediately after landing on Yemeni beaches.
Many Ethiopians, however, are in Yemen because they face severe persecution at home. Ethiopia’s government has grown increasingly repressive over the past decade. As of September 2009 UNHCR had registered over 11,000 Ethiopian refugees in Yemen. Over 1,500 Ethiopians applied for asylum between January 2008 and October 2009. But as discussed below, these figures underestimate the number of Ethiopians who arrive in Yemen with a valid basis for seeking asylum. Many are discouraged from seeking refugee status by discriminatory government policies or are arrested and deported back to Ethiopia before
they have the chance to apply.
A Heavy Burden on a Poor Country
The massive influx of refugees and migrants into Yemen is a difficult burden for the country and its government to bear. Yemen is the poorest country in the Arab world and globally it sits near the bottom of the Human Development Index. Its population suffers from rates of both poverty and unemployment estimated to stand at roughly 35 percent. The country’s hosting of so many Somali refugees has put such a strain on the local economy—and on public opinion—that the government is loathe to exacerbate that strain by welcoming any more groups of refugees. Already, the country’s worsening economic climate has led to a rise in anti-immigrant sentiment in Yemen and acts of discrimination and violence against refugees are not uncommon.
Regionally, Yemen pays another political price for the refugees and migrants who land upon its shores. Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states place heavy pressure on the government of Yemen to staunch the flow of migrants who transit through Yemen looking to work illegally in the more prosperous economies of the region. As UNCHR told Human Rights Watch, many of Yemen’s neighbors are certain to lobby against any effort to push through refugee policy reforms because “they say that if Yemen has a progressive [refugee] legislation it will attract more people who will then come to their countries.”
The Yemeni government is also under strong pressure from the Ethiopian government to repatriate all of its citizens who enter the country illegally, including asylum seekers. Many sources interviewed by Human Rights Watch believe that Yemen has entered into a formal agreement with Ethiopia not to recognize any Ethiopian national as a refugee. Whether a formal agreement exists or not, Ethiopian government pressure is a real factor inhibiting positive change in the government’s policies towards Ethiopian asylum seekers.
Book International Law that use in this reference :
HOSTILE SHORES Abuse and Refoulement of Asylum Seekers and Refugees in Yemen.
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