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UNHCR seeking clarification on Yemeni announcements

Briefing notes

UNHCR seeking clarification on Yemeni announcements

21 October 2008

Our office in Yemen is seeking clarification from the government following recent statements by the Interior Ministry that Eritreans and Ethiopians will be denied entry to the country. The statements coincide with the resumption of smuggling of people across the Gulf of Aden from the Horn of Africa - primarily Somalis, but also Ethiopians, Eritreans and other nationalities.

Yemen, a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, grants prima facie refugee status to Somalis and has until now also allowed non-Somali arrivals to seek asylum if they declare a wish to do so.

While recognising the generosity already shown by Yemen to refugees and asylum seekers, we are seeking clarification from the government on any changes in policy. We urge that it maintain its international commitments under the 1951 Convention, including access to asylum procedures for all of those in need of international protection.

Over the past two weeks, a total of 87 Ethiopians in four different groups - including 10 women and two children - have reportedly sought asylum and were detained. UNHCR has not had access to them, but we have received government assurances of access. Yesterday, UNHCR understands that some 25 Ethiopians, including six women, were removed by authorities from a vehicle transporting new arrivals to the UNHCR reception centre of Ahwar.

In its statements, the government has appealed to the world community and international organisations to help share the burden arising from the growing population movements out of the Horn of Africa - a call supported by UNHCR.

Meanwhile, the number of smuggled people from the Horn of Africa arriving on Yemen's coast continues to climb. As of last Friday (Oct. 17), a total of 37,333 people have arrived in Yemen this year on smugglers' boats. A total of 616 people died or were reported missing so far this year making the dangerous voyage. So far this month, there have been 3,737 arrivals and 95 reported dead or missing.

In 2007, nearly 23,000 people arrived on Yemen's coast from the Horn of Africa and more than 900 people perished.