Fresh challenges for migrants in Yemen
Publisher: Yemen Times
Story date: 17/11/2011
Language: English

Thousands of Africans continue to seek refuge in Yemen, despite continuing conflict and increasing xenophobia. Some know the risks, but believe Yemen will still be better than the war and food crisis they left behind. Others do not know or understand the situation, say analysts. Accusations by both the government and the opposition that African migrants are engaged in the conflict in the capital, Sana'a – an allegation widely reinforced by local media – have fuelled the situation. The ongoing conflict has also affected the ability of aid agencies to help them. Yet September saw the highest number of new monthly arrivals – more than 12,000, an average of 400 a day – since 2006, bringing the total of new arrivals from January to September to 72,111, according to the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR.

Other impacts "Smugglers are taking advantage of the lack of proper governance resulting from the overall insecurity in the country," said Sarah Saleh, deputy country director of the Danish Refugee Council (DRC), which helps new arrivals on the Yemeni coast.

With a smaller government presence, new arrivals are landing in more locations and more frequently – making it difficult for aid agencies to locate and assist them. These challenges have been compounded by a fuel shortage, linked to the political crisis, which has limited the movement of aid agencies and their ability to operate generators amid electricity shortages.

Refugees and migrants who come to Yemen by boat from the Arabian Coast are normally transported to Kharaz camp through the Abyan governorate, but agencies have been forced to take a longer, safer route, which has slowed the frequency of transportation and forced newcomers to stay in transit centers longer than usual. The route from Ahwar to Kharaz, for example, used to take two to three hours; now it can take eight hours, Saleh said.

The trip from Mayfa'a to Kharaz – normally seven hours – now takes up to 17 hours, according to Nasser Salim Bajanoob, head of the Society for Humanitarian Solidarity (SHS), which transports new arrivals from reception centres to the camp. "Operationally, things have become exceedingly difficult," Saleh said. "We're all frustrated, to be honest.

People do not wait for the trucks to take them to Kharaz [camp]. Sometimes, they say 'to hell with it' and they just go on foot." Stuck at the border According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), more than 12,000 migrants are stuck in the border region, unable to enter Saudi Arabia – due to increased smuggling fees and tightened security – and unable to return to Sana'a. The IOM has evacuated more than 6,000 in the past year.

But since September, flights have been grounded, leaving migrants in a "critical" condition at the border. "They are threatened physically. Sometimes they are assaulted, beaten, robbed," said IOM. "In some cases they have no means to feed or take care of themselves," Edward Leposky, UNHCR public information officer in Yemen, said. "Some are sick, hungry, dehydrated, living in open areas and exposed to the elements." Zeinab Hassan, a 26-year-old Ethiopian who had camped out in front of UNHCR in protest of the refugee situation for four months despite her pregnancy, said she did not have shelter, water, sanitation or maternal healthcare.

Despair "Everyone is more desperate at the moment," said Jonathan Gray, head of the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) sub-office in the southern city of Aden. The refugees, he added, were following the lead of Yemenis and others across the Arab world in using protests to air their grievances. Some asylum-seekers want to go back home, according to DRC's Saleh. "A lot of them are saying they want to go back to Somalia, which is in many cases actually worse than Yemen." The experience has taken quite a psychological toll on them, Gray added. "A lot of Somalis will say 'wherever we go, we're involved in war'." And yet more keep coming. "It is a real challenge to get the message to the grassroots level that Yemen is not a viable option," the IOM's Chauzy concluded.

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