News / Africa

Tougher Times Ahead for Yemen's Somali Refugees

During the past 20 years, hundreds of thousands of refugees have fled from Somalia to Yemen, where they are granted automatic asylum. The Yemeni government now says it may change that, saying the Somalis are a burden and a security risk. But new laws may not stem the tide of people crossing the Gulf of Aden. Heather Murdock reports from Basateen, a sprawling slum in southern Yemen that is home to 15,000 refugees.

Somali refugees gather at an area in the village of Basateen near the Yemeni port city of Aden (File)
Somali refugees gather at an area in the village of Basateen near the Yemeni port city of Aden (File)


Heather Murdock

For many Somali refugees, making the harrowing trip to Yemen is simply an effort to stay alive.

This man says he fled his country to escape al-Shabab, the growing al-Qaida-linked militia in Somalia.  The man, who does not want his name used, was a journalist in Mogadishu six months ago, but after three of his colleagues were killed and he received a death threat, he fled.

Refugees like him come to Yemen packed on tiny fishing boats and are often dumped in the water far off shore. Those who can swim help those who cannot try to make it to land, sometimes while the Yemeni army fires at the smugglers. Many die on the way.

Somali asylum seekers rest on side of main road after an exhausting trip upon arrival on the beach of Hasn Beleid village, east of Red Sea port of Aden (file photo)
Somali asylum seekers rest on side of main road after an exhausting trip upon arrival on the beach of Hasn Beleid village, east of Red Sea port of Aden (file photo)

Survivors face discrimination and crushing poverty in Yemen.  Almost half of the people in this arid Arabian country live on less than $2 a day.  Jobs are scarce and when refugees do find work, it is usually menial labor.   Many Somalis say life was much easier at home, but at least in Yemen, they do not have to worry about getting shot.

Life may soon become even harder for those seeking refuge in Yemen.  In the coming weeks, the government will be reconsidering a policy that offers asylum to all Somalis.  Deputy Foreign Minister Ali Muthana Hassan says this is because the government believes most Somalis who come to Yemen are not fleeing war or persecution, but looking for jobs.

"Most of them are not to be considered under the asylum criteria.  So that is why we think we need to reconsider the issue, in order not to, first of all, encourage people to come here," he said.

Hassan says refugees may also threaten Yemen's security in the future.  Al-Shabab has promised to send fighters to re-enforce al-Qaida in its fight against West, and militants could cross the Gulf disguised as refugees.

But a spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees in Sana'a, Andrew Knight, says militants have not been known to use refugees or refugee boats to enter Yemen.

"Of course we've got a huge coastline that is not very secure, so of course this is an issue. However, until today we have absolutely no evidence of any link between refugees and terrorists," said Knight.

Ethiopian refugee and human rights activist Abiy Abebe says if Somalis are required to prove they are refugees, and not economic migrants, they will face the same harsh treatment as others fleeing war, drought, and political turmoil in the Horn of Africa.

Abede says Ethiopians and Eritreans who land on Yemeni shores are often arrested and deported without a chance to present evidence of persecution in their home countries.

And the Yemeni government, which is signatory to international treaties that obligate it to house refugees, does not appear to be embarrassed by the deportations.  Officials openly complain they believe refugees import disease, crime, and poverty.

But according to the UNHCR's Knight, those claims are the common refrains of governments struggling to care for large incoming refugee populations, and amount to little more than what he calls "uninformed xenophobia."

You May Like

Video In US, Columbus Day Still Generates Controversy

Holiday marks date Columbus discovered Americas, but some are offended by legacy because he enslaved many natives he encountered More

Video Through Sports, Austria Tries to Give Migrants Traction

With 85,000 people expected to claim asylum in Austria this year, its government has made integration through joint physical activities a key objective More

Video Kickboxing Champion Shares Sport With Young Migrants

Pouring into Europe by hundreds of thousands, some migrants, especially youngsters, are finding sports a way to integrate into new host countries More

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Amnesty Accuses Saudi Coalition of ‘War Crimes’ in Yemeni
Henry Ridgwell
October 12, 2015 4:03 PM
The human rights group Amnesty International has accused the Saudi-led coalition of war crimes in airstrikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen. Henry Ridgwell reports the group says hundreds of civilians have been killed in strikes on residential areas.

Video Amnesty Accuses Saudi Coalition of ‘War Crimes’ in Yemen

The human rights group Amnesty International has accused the Saudi-led coalition of war crimes in airstrikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen. Henry Ridgwell reports the group says hundreds of civilians have been killed in strikes on residential areas.

Video No Resolution in Sight to US House Speaker Drama

Uncertainty grips the U.S. Congress, where no consensus replacement has emerged to succeed Republican House Speaker John Boehner after his surprise resignation announcement. Half of Congress is effectively leaderless weeks before America risks defaulting on its national debt and enduring another partial government shutdown.

Video New Art Exhibit Focuses on Hope

Out of struggle and despair often comes hope. That idea is behind a new art exhibit at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. "The Big Hope Show" features 25 artists, some of whom overcame trauma and loss. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Columbus Day Still Generates Controversy as US Holiday

The second Monday of October is Columbus Day in the United States, honoring explorer Christopher Columbus and his discovery of the Americas. The achievement is a source of pride for many, but for some the holiday is marked by controversy. Adrianna Zhang has more.

Video Anger Simmers as Turks Begin to Bury Blast Victims

The Turkish army carried out new air strikes on Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) targets on Sunday, a day after the banned group announced a unilateral cease fire. The air raids apparently are in retaliation for the Saturday bombing in Turkey's capital Ankara that killed at least 95 people and wounded more than 200 others. But as Zlatica Hoke reports, there are suspicions that Islamic State is involved.

Video Bombings a Sign of Turkey’s Deep Troubles

Turkey has begun a three-day period of mourning following Saturday’s bomb attacks in the capital, Ankara, that killed nearly 100 people. With contentious parliamentary elections three weeks away, the attacks highlight the challenges Turkey is facing as it struggles with ethnic friction, an ongoing migrant crisis, and growing tensions with Russia. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Afghanistan’s Progress Aided by US Academic Center

Recent combat in Afghanistan has shifted world attention back to the central Asian nation’s continuing civil war and economic challenges. But, while there are many vexing problems facing Afghanistan’s government and people, a group of academics in Omaha, Nebraska has kept a strong faith in the nation’s future through programs to improve education. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Omaha, Nebraska.

Video House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdraws

The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video German, US Officials Investigate Volkswagen

German officials have taken steps to restore some of the reputation their car industry has lost after a recent Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal. Authorities have searched Volkswagen headquarters and other locations in an effort to identify the culprits in the creation of software that helps cheat on emission tests. Meanwhile, a group of lawmakers in Washington held a hearing to get to the bottom of the cheating strategy that was first discovered in the United States. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Why Are Gun Laws So Hard for Congress to Tackle?

Since taking office, President Barack Obama has spoken out or issued statements about 15 mass shootings. The most recent shooting, in which 10 people were killed at a community college, sparked outrage over the nation's gun laws. But changing those laws isn't as easy as many think. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.

Video In 'He Named Me Malala,' Guggenheim Finds Normal in Extraordinary

Davis Guggenheim’s documentary "He Named Me Malala" offers a probing look into the life of 18-year-old Malala Yousafsai, the Pakistani teenager who, in 2012, was shot in the head by the Taliban for standing up for her right to education in her hometown in Pakistan's Swat Valley. Guggenheim shows how, since then, Malala has become a symbol not as a victim of brutal violence, but as an advocate for girls’ education throughout the world. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.

Video Paintable Solar Cells May Someday Replace Silicon-Based Panels

Solar panels today are still factory-manufactured, with the use of some highly toxic substances such as cadmium chloride. But a researcher at St. Mary’s College, Maryland, says we are close to being able to create solar panels by painting them on a suitable surface, using nontoxic solutions. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs