Concern over protest casualties in Yemen, Egypt

Briefing Notes, 20 December 2005

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 20 December 2005, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

Yemen: UNHCR is deeply saddened by the death of a Somali man and injuries suffered by another five Somali demonstrators and four Yemeni policemen following an incident Saturday outside our office in Sana'a, where police dispersed an increasingly aggressive crowd that had been there since 13 November despite ongoing efforts to reach a solution.

Since the start of the protest, UNHCR had sought to reach a peaceful solution through dialogue. UNHCR staff met several times with the demonstrators to discuss their demands. We agreed to meet several of them, including more assistance for vulnerable refugees; more Somali-speaking UNHCR staff; and additional health care. One of their main demands, resettlement to third countries, is only an option for a few vulnerable cases and at the discretion of the resettlement countries themselves not UNHCR. Registration and provision of ID cards is also being arranged. Despite UNHCR's attempts to find a solution to end the sit-in, by last weekend the crowd had become increasingly aggressive and were blocking the entrance to our office and preventing staff from leaving. Yemeni security services decided to intervene to restore public order.

UNHCR is ensuring that the injured receive medical care and is assisting the family of the deceased. We remain in contact with the demonstrators to ensure our previous agreements are met.

Somalis entering Yemen are automatically granted refugee status by the government. At the end of October, some 79,000 refugees had been registered with UNHCR in Yemen, more than 68,000 of whom were from Somalia. Somalis in Yemen are able to work and to stay in the country indefinitely. Most Somalis live in urban areas, with roughly 7,500 staying at the Kharaz refugee camp in the Lahj governorate in the country's south.

Egypt: Despite an agreement reached on Saturday (17 Dec) between the leaders of the Sudanese demonstrators and UNHCR, a group of some 1,500 Sudanese are continuing a protest in Mostafa Mahmoud Park in Cairo. The leaders had agreed to end the demonstration after UNHCR had offered to respond to various needs. Upon returning to the park, however, the leaders were unable to convince the other demonstrators in the square to end their protest.

The Sudanese have been gathered in the park since September 29 to protest living conditions and to demand resettlement to third countries. Throughout this period, UNHCR has made all possible efforts to resolve the dispute, cooperating closely with Egyptian authorities, UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Mr. Adel Imam, prominent local Sudanese figures, and many Cairo-based NGOs.

UNHCR is extremely concerned about the deteriorating humanitarian and health situation of those still in the park, especially the women and children. Last week, a young boy and a man died. The sit-in has also become a public order issue and of growing concern to Egyptian authorities.

UNHCR again appeals to the demonstrators to end their protest peacefully, as agreed, and to work with the office to implement the agreement reached on Saturday.

UNHCR is presently assisting over 24,000 Sudanese refugees and asylum seekers in Cairo or between 1-2 percent of the millions of Sudanese believed to be in Egypt. The overwhelming majority have not applied for refugee status. Sudanese refugees and asylum seekers in Egypt continue to benefit from protection and assistance, despite UNHCR's serious budget constraints and competing needs in other operations.