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