High Commissioner Guterres visits refugee camp in Yemen

News Stories, 15 May 2008

© UNHCR/A.Etefa
High Commissioner Guterres meets a family that recently arrived in Yemen from Somalia across the Gulf of Aden.

KHARAZ REFUGEE CAMP, Yemen, May 15 (UNHCR) UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres on Thursday called on the international community to step up their assistance for Somali refugees in Yemen during a visit to Kharaz Refugee Camp.

Guterres, kicking off a five-day official visit to Yemen, spoke to several refugees, visited new arrival areas and looked at shelters built with the help of the European Commission (EC). He was accompanied to the camp, located 140 kilometres, west of Aden, by Michele Cervone D'Urso, the European Union's chargé d'affaires in Yemen, and Yemeni government officials.

Kharaz hosts some 10,500 refugees, most of them from Somalia, and the High Commissioner spent time in one tent with members of a Somali family who arrived days ago in Yemen by boat from the port of Bossaso after making the dangerous crossing of the Gulf of Aden.

He also spoke to a 35-year-old Somali woman who paid US$100 a head to make the trip with her two sons. "We knew it was a dangerous journey, but we had little alternative; either to die in the war in Somalia or to take our chances and to try to cross [the Gulf of Aden] to the other side," she told Guterres. "I now worry about the families that we left behind."

A 41-year-old Somali man revealed that he had been stuck in Yemen for 18 years. "I am tired of the word refugee," he said to the High Commissioner, adding: "Some children were born in these camps and are now teenagers."

"It is impossible to come to Kharaz Camp without feeling something very strong about the plight of Somali refugees. Many of them have been living in these conditions for 16 years and unfortunately the outflow is growing. This year, more than 18,000 people have arrived in Yemen through the Gulf of Aden. The majority of them are Somalis and 400 have died in this dangerous journey," Guterres said.

"I appeal to the international community to step up their assistance and help, so that we are able to cope with this challenge and to be able to support these people as well as the government of Yemen, which has been extremely generous in receiving Somali refugees despite their limited resources," he added.

Guterres will attend a regional conference on "Refugee Protection and International Migration in the Gulf of Aden" in the Yemen capital, Sana'a, on Monday and Tuesday.

The regional conference is being convened by UNHCR in cooperation with the Mixed Migration Task Force for Somalia, composed of international agencies working in Somalia and funded by the EC. The objectives of the conference include establishing a regional mechanism and longer-term plan of action on refugee protection and mixed migration in the Gulf of Aden region.

During the visit he will also visit UNHCR's offices in Sana'a and Aden. He will also meet with urban refugees in Basateen in Aden, and visit UNHCR's reception centres along the southern coastline of Yemen.

At each stop, the High Commissioner will meet with Yemeni officials as well as with some of the Somalis and Ethiopians who have recently made the voyage across the Gulf of Aden in search of protection or a better life.

By Abeer Etefa in Kharaz Refugee Camp, Yemen




UNHCR country pages

The High Commissioner

António Guterres, who joined UNHCR on June 15, 2005, is the UN refugee agency's 10th High Commissioner.

Flood Airdrop in Kenya

Over the weekend, UNHCR with the help of the US military began an emergency airdrop of some 200 tonnes of relief supplies for thousands of refugees badly hit by massive flooding in the Dadaab refugee camps in northern Kenya.

In a spectacular sight, 16 tonnes of plastic sheeting, mosquito nets, tents and blankets, were dropped on each run from the C-130 transport plane onto a site cleared of animals and people. Refugees loaded the supplies on trucks to take to the camps.

Dadaab, a three-camp complex hosting some 160,000 refugees, mainly from Somalia, has been cut off from the world for a month by heavy rains that washed away the road connecting the remote camps to the Kenyan capital, Nairobi. Air transport is the only way to get supplies into the camps.

UNHCR has moved 7,000 refugees from Ifo camp, worst affected by the flooding, to Hagadera camp, some 20 km away. A further 7,000 refugees have been moved to higher ground at a new site, called Ifo 2.

Posted in December 2006

Flood Airdrop in Kenya

New Arrivals in Yemen

During one six-day period at the end of March, more than 1,100 Somalis and Ethiopians arrived on the shores of Yemen after crossing the Gulf of Aden on smuggler's boats from Bosaso, Somalia. At least 28 people died during these recent voyages – from asphyxiation, beating or drowning – and many were badly injured by the smugglers. Others suffered skin problems as a result of prolonged contact with sea water, human waste, diesel oil and other chemicals.

During a recent visit to Yemen, UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner for Protection Erika Feller pledged to further raise the profile of the situation, to appeal for additional funding and international action to help Yemen, and to develop projects that will improve the living conditions and self sufficiency of the refugees in Yemen.

Since January 2006, Yemen has received nearly 30,000 people from Somalia, Ethiopia and other places, while more than 500 people have died during the sea crossing and at least 300 remain missing. UNHCR provides assistance, care and housing to more than 100,000 refugees already in Yemen.

New Arrivals in Yemen

The Gulf of Aden: Sharp Rise in Crossings and Deaths

The number of people arriving on the coast of Yemen after being smuggled across the treacherous Gulf of Aden from the Horn of Africa has more than doubled this year. So far this year, more than 18,000 people have arrived in Yemen across the Gulf of Aden, and nearly 400 have died attempting the journey.

This surge in arrivals is largely due to the continuing conflict in Somalia and the use of new smuggling routes from Somalia to Yemen and across the Red Sea from Djibouti. Many of the new arrivals also tell of crop losses due to drought, which forced them to leave home. This photo set focuses on those people leaving from Djibouti.

UNHCR has been calling for increased action to save lives in the Gulf of Aden and other waters. We have stepped up our work in Yemen under a US$17 million operation that includes extra staff, provision of additional shelter and assistance, and protection for refugees and internally displaced people.

Posted on 20 May 2008

The Gulf of Aden: Sharp Rise in Crossings and Deaths

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