UNHCR remains concerned by high numbers of refugees and migrants arriving in Yemen

Briefing Notes, 6 August 2013

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 6 August 2013, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

In Yemen, UNHCR has so far recorded the arrival of more than 46,000 refugees and migrants during the first six months of 2013, and we remain concerned about the increasingly high numbers of people making the dangerous trip by boat from the Horn of Africa

The number of asylum seekers, refugees and migrants in Yemen has been rising for the past six years. Last year, a record 107,500 people made the journey. And while numbers are lower so far in 2013 46,417 from January through June, compared to 56,146 for the same period in 2012 this year represents another year with a high number of arrivals. Since 2006, close to half a million (some 487,000) people have arrived in Yemen through mixed-migration movements.

UNHCR staff and our partners, such as the Yemeni Red Crescent and the Danish Refugee Council, work daily to record new arrivals and offer them support. That help takes many forms, including food and water, first aid and transportation to transit and reception centres hot meals, welcome packages including blankets and clothing, accommodation and counselling.

We have witnessed a significant change in the refugee and migrant population arriving in Yemen over the past two years, with more Ethiopians making the crossing and citing the difficult situation at home. Previously, Somali refugees made up between one-third and one-quarter of total arrivals. Of the people who arrived in Yemen in the first half of 2013, 38,827 (84%) are Ethiopian, 7,559 (16%) are Somali, and there are also 17 Eritreans, 12 Djiboutians and two Sudanese.

Most of the new arrivals reached Yemen in February-March and via the Red Sea. Of the 46,417 total, 7,518 people arrived in January, 10,145 in February, 11,806 in March, 6,407 in April, 6,261 in May and 4,280 in June. Of the total, 34,875 arrived via the Red Sea and mainly in Lahij Governorate. The other 11,542 arrived via the Arabian Sea -mainly in Hadramout Governorate.

Refugees and migrants are vulnerable to exploitation, violence and sexual abuse at all stages of their journeys. Boats crossing the Arabian Sea or Red Sea to Yemen are often overcrowded. Smugglers may force passengers into the water to avoid detection. Smugglers and traffickers often wait on the coast to receive the new arrivals.

Yemeni authorities continue to recognize Somali arrivals as refugees automatically. UNHCR determines the refugee status of Ethiopians and other nationals. Though few Ethiopians seek asylum partly because most want to travel to beyond Yemen or they don't know how the asylum process works. As a result, most Ethiopians are left extremely vulnerable.

There are positive developments. The number of dead or missing refugees and migrants has dropped significantly to five people so far this year from 43 in all of 2012. And in Yemen, a traditional transit hub for migrants and a country hosting more than 242,000 refugees, migration-monitoring is relatively well managed. Yemeni authorities have also enjoyed some success in locating smugglers' and traffickers' bases and cracking down on their operations.

While UNHCR remains concerned by the continued high numbers of asylum seekers and migrants arriving in Yemen from the Horn of Africa, we are also engaged with the Yemeni Government and national and international partners. Together we are working to enhance services offered to refugees, asylum seekers and migrants as well as find sustainable solutions.

For more information, please contact:

  • In Sana'a: Zaid al-Alaya'a at +967 7 1222 5027
  • In Geneva: Daniel MacIsaac at +41 79 200 76 17
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