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Yemen: UNHCR concerned about Ethiopians detained by authorities

Briefing notes

Yemen: UNHCR concerned about Ethiopians detained by authorities

1 December 2006 Also available in:

UNHCR is concerned about a group of 126 Ethiopians who have been detained since Monday by Yemeni security forces after they landed on the coast near Bir Ali after crossing the Gulf of Aden by boat. The 126 were part of a group of 355 Somalis and Ethiopians who had made the two-day crossing smuggled in three boats from the Somali port of Bossaso. On arrival in Yemen, the Ethiopians were immediately transferred by the security forces to the immigration authorities in Attaq, Shabwa governorate, and threatened with deportation.

After learning of their detention, UNHCR immediately requested the authorities in Bir Ali and Attaq to give us access to determine if there were refugees among the group who should not be deported. But so far, our requests have been unsuccessful. Yemeni officials told UNHCR staff yesterday (Thursday) that all non-Somali new arrivals should be detained and deported to their home countries.

Yemen is one of the few countries in the Middle East region that have signed the 1951 Refugee Convention. Yemen has shown hospitality towards Somali refugees and flexibility towards the tens of thousands of people arriving on its coast every year. But we urge the government to respect its international obligations and to continue keeping its doors open to other nationals, who might fear persecution in their countries of origin. UNHCR is ready to assist the government with the screening and registration of all new arrivals.

Since the start of this year, more than 22,000 people aboard at least 188 boats were recorded arriving in Yemen from Somalia. No specific breakdown is available on how many were Ethiopians because many do not register and travel on to other parts of Yemen or elsewhere in the Middle East. But so far this year, 11,510 Somalis and 959 Ethiopians were transferred to UNHCR's reception centre in May'fa. Some 133 Somalis and 193 Ethiopians reportedly died on the way from Somalia. The number of Ethiopian arrivals has slightly increased in recent months.

In all, there are currently over 80,000 registered refugees in Yemen, including some 75,500 Somalis.