Human Right Watch ~ Systematic Violation of Yemen’s Obligations to Asylum Seekers Under International Law
Yemen is the only country on the Arabian Peninsula to have ratified the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (Refugee Convention) and its 1967 protocol. And the Yemeni government displays a generosity towards Somali nationals who arrive in Yemen that goes well beyond its obligations under international law, according all of them prima facie refugee status without distinction. A prima facie or group determination of refugee status permits a government to provide refugee status to a large influx of people without having at least initially to address the claims on a case-by-case basis. But the Yemeni government openly flouts the convention’s core provisions in its treatment of non-Somali-and particularly Ethiopian—asylum seekers.
The Refugee Convention establishes that anyone who can demonstrate an inability to return to their home country because of a “well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion” is entitled to refugee status.67 The convention categorically prohibits refoulement—forcibly returning a person to a place where they face a threat to life or freedom on account of any of the five criteria listed above. Non-refoulement is the most fundamental principle of refugee law and is a rule of customary international law, binding even those states that have not ratified the Refugee Convention. The convention also requires states parties to treat asylum seekers and refugees equally regardless of their country of origin.
Under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, whose provisions are considered reflective of customary international law, “everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.” The right to seek asylum has been reaffirmed in various UN statements, repeatedly by UNHCR’s governing body, called the ExCom, and in a resolution of the Sub-Commission on Human Rights adopted in 2000. The fact that an asylum seeker enters the country illegally rather than through a formal border post cannot be used as grounds to deny this or any other right under the terms of the Refugee Convention.
UNHCR’s ExCom, in its conclusions on “Safeguarding Asylum,” emphasized that the right to seek asylum includes: the principle of non-refoulement regardless of whether persons have been formally granted refugee status; access of asylum seekers to fair and effective procedures for determining status and protection needs; the need for states to admit refugees to state territories; the need for rapid, unimpeded, and safe UNHCR access to “persons of concern”; and the obligation to treat asylum seekers and refugees in accordance with applicable human rights and refugee law standards; among other considerations.
Thus, under international law, any asylum seeker claiming refugee status in Yemen has a right to have his or her case considered.
Yemen does not have a law on refugees and asylum, and the unlawful distinctions it makes between Somali and other asylum seekers is not the product of any legislation or regulations. UNHCR has spearheaded an effort to produce a draft law to bring Yemeni government practice into greater conformity with its obligations under international law. However this is likely to be a long-term effort, if it succeeds at all.
Contrary to its obligations under the Refugee Convention, the Yemeni government has interpreted the refugee definition in a way that blatantly discriminates on the basis of nationality. While it considers anyone from Somalia to be a refugee, asylum seekers from Ethiopia and other countries in the region are treated as illegal migrants regardless of the persecution they might face if returned.
The result is a policy of arresting and deporting all non-Somalis—almost all of them Ethiopians—who arrive by boat along Yemen’s coasts. This involves the systematic refoulement of unknown numbers of asylum seekers who travel alongside Ethiopians migrating for other reasons. While the Yemeni government refrains from arresting and deporting Ethiopians who manage against the odds to secure recognition as refugees by UNHCR, it accords them no official recognition of its own and tries to prevent them from ever applying for asylum.
The Yemeni government‘s discriminatory policies and practices towards non-Somali migrants and its impact on those swept up by it, are described in the remainder of this report. The government makes no effort to conceal its actions, and sometimes proactively communicates the mass arrest and deportation of Ethiopian nationals to the media. The primary aim appears to be to stem migration from the Horn of Africa into Yemen and other countries in the region. As previously described, Yemen is under considerable domestic and regional pressure to find a way to accomplish this. Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states view Yemen as the gateway to their own populations of illegal migrants from the Horn of Africa. Since over 99 percent of the non-Somalis who enter Yemen by sea are Ethiopians, as a practical matter stopping the flow of non-Somalis from the Horn of Africa into Yemen means stopping Ethiopians. As one Yemeni interior ministry official told the media, “We are up to our ears with Somalis. We do not want another front of African migration to open.”
Book International Law that use in this reference :
HOSTILE SHORES Abuse and Refoulement of Asylum Seekers and Refugees in Yemen.
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