Yemen meet agrees on regional cooperation to tackle asylum and irregular migration

News Stories, 13 November 2013

© UNHCR/J.Björgvinsson
These men recover on a beach on Yemen after the arduous sea crossing from the Horn of Africa.

SANA'A, Yemen, November 13 (UNHCR) A regional conference on asylum and migration from the Horn of Africa to Yemen wrapped up today with agreement on urgent international action to better manage mixed migration while boosting support for countries of origin and host nations.

The agreement came in a joint declaration developed during the three-day conference in the Yemen capital, Sana'a, which was organized by the Yemeni government with the support of UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration. The declaration's recommendations aim to address the root causes of irregular migration.

"These [population] movements, and the deadly boat disasters that ensue, drive home the urgent need for increased international action to avert such incidents, to protect and assist people in need and to support countries like Yemen in shouldering the burden," UNHCR's Director of International Protection Volker Türk told delegates on Wednesday.

"Let me say that the failure to prevent deaths at sea must be seen as a collective humanitarian failure," warned Türk. "This conference, its outcome and follow-up present a valuable opportunity to move forward together with a joint vision, both regionally and globally, to prevent such a failure from reoccurring," he added.

UNHCR estimates that, since 2006, more than half-a-million asylum-seekers, refugees and migrants have made unauthorized crossings across the Gulf of Aden or Red Sea from Eastern Africa to Yemen, including some 107,000 in 2012 and 62,000 so far this year. Thousands have died in their attempt to make the crossing, most from drowning.

The declaration includes recommendations to tackle mixed migration challenges immediately and in the long term. In the area of law enforcement, it calls for enhanced bilateral and multilateral support; implementing a capacity building strategy to improve law enforcement mechanisms; combatting smuggling and human trafficking; and increasing international support to strengthen search and rescue capacities.

Other proposals include increased support for assisted voluntary return programmes; more burden-sharing; strengthening the refugee protection system, including respect for principles such as non-refoulement; enhancing cooperation in employment opportunities; economic development initiatives; more awareness-raising campaigns about the risks of irregular migration; and strengthened regional cooperation on information sharing and data analysis.

Delegates agreed on adopting a follow-up mechanism, which includes designating national focal points and convening regular meetings to evaluate progress and outline measures to tackle irregular migration and enhance the asylum mechanism.

Yemen's Prime Minister Mohammed Salem Basendwa, in his address on Wednesday, stressed that international solidarity and burden-sharing would be fundamental in ensuring Yemen's continuing hospitality. "Migration is a cross-border phenomenon; as such, it should be placed in a broader context of regional cooperation and regional policy development," added Laura Thomson, deputy director of the International Organization for Migration.

The meeting came at a time when international attention is focused more on the attempts of people from sub-Saharan Africa or Syria to reach southern Europe by dangerous sea routes.

But Christopher Horwood, coordinator of the Kenya-based Regional Mixed Migration Secretariat, said the conference outcome was positive, "insofar that the necessary stakeholders have become more engaged and seized by the mixed migration phenomenon a complex issue that leads to so much suffering and criminality in some parts of the region."

The regional conference was attended by delegates of the four Horn of Africa states, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia as well as representatives from Gulf Cooperation Council states and members of the League of Arab States. Senior officials of UN, intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations were also present.

By Ziad Ayad in San'a, Yemen

Statement by Volker Türk, Director of International Protection, to the Regional Conference on Asylum and Migration from the Horn of Africa to Yemen. Sana’a, Republic of Yemen, 11-13 November 2013

The Sana'a Declaration, Regional Conference on Asylum and Migration from the Horn of Africa to Yemen. Sana’a, Republic of Yemen, 11-13 November 2013




UNHCR country pages

Asylum and Migration

Asylum and Migration

All in the same boat: The challenges of mixed migration around the world.

Refugee Protection and Mixed Migration: A 10-Point Plan of Action

A UNHCR strategy setting out key areas in which action is required to address the phenomenon of mixed and irregular movements of people. See also: Schematic representation of a profiling and referral mechanism in the context of addressing mixed migratory movements.

International Migration

The link between movements of refugees and broader migration attracts growing attention.

Mixed Migration

Migrants are different from refugees but the two sometimes travel alongside each other.

Gulf of Aden People-Smuggling: International Help Needed

An alarming number of people are dying trying to reach Yemen aboard smugglers' boats crossing the Gulf of Aden from Somalia. Over a three-week period in late 2005, at least 150 people perished while making the journey. These deaths are frequently the result of overcrowded boats capsizing or breaking down and going adrift without food or water. Those who survive the voyage to Yemen often give brutal accounts of smugglers beating passengers or forcing them overboard while still far off shore – in some instances with their hands and feet bound.

In response, UNHCR has issued an urgent appeal for action to stem the flow of desperate Ethiopian and Somali refugees and migrants falling prey to ruthless smugglers in a bid to reach Yemen and beyond. The refugee agency has also been working with the authorities in Puntland, in north-eastern Somalia, on ways to inform people about the dangers of using smugglers to cross the Gulf of Aden. This includes production of videos and radio programmes to raise awareness among Somalis and Ethiopians of the risks involved in such crossings.

Gulf of Aden People-Smuggling: International Help Needed

2011 Yemen: Risking All for a Better Future

Plagued by violence, drought and poverty, thousands of people in the Horn of Africa leave their homes out of desperation every year. Seeking safety or a better life, these civilians - mainly Somalis and Ethiopians - make the dangerous journey through Somalia to the northern port of Bossaso.

Once there, they pay up to US$150 to make the perilous trip across the Gulf of Aden on smugglers' boats. They often wait for weeks in Bossaso's safe houses or temporary homes until a sudden call prompts their departure under the veil of night, crammed into small rickety boats.

Out at sea, they are at the whim of smugglers. Some passengers get beaten, stabbed, killed and thrown overboard. Others drown before reaching the beaches of Yemen, which have become the burial ground for hundreds of innocent people who die en route.

The Yemen-based Society for Humanitarian Solidarity (SHS) has been helping these people since 1995. On September 13, 2011 UNHCR announced that the NGO had won this year's Nansen Refugee Award for its tireless efforts to assist people arriving from the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea.

2011 Yemen: Risking All for a Better Future

Yemeni humanitarian aid group wins 2011 Nansen Refugee Award

The founder and staff of the Society for Humanitarian Solidarity (SHS), a humanitarian organization in Yemen, has won the 2011 Nansen Refugee Award for their work in aiding and rescuing refugees and migrants who make the dangerous sea journey across the Gulf of Aden from the Horn of Africa. View a slideshow of the group's life-saving work, patrolling the beaches of southern Yemen for new arrivals and providing food, shelter and medical care to those who survive the dangerous journey.

Yemeni humanitarian aid group wins 2011 Nansen Refugee Award

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UNHCR - IDC video on alternatives to detention for children

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