Last Updated: Monday, 30 May 2016, 14:07 GMT

State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2011 - Yemen

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date 6 July 2011
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2011 - Yemen, 6 July 2011, available at: [accessed 30 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Although three-quarters of Yemen's income is derived from oil revenues, the World Bank has projected that these will run out by 2017. Sana'a is the world's fastest growing capital city, but it is predicted that the city will run out of water by 2015. Its population is expected to double by 2035. Today, almost half of Yemeni children suffer from malnutrition.

Yemen's problems are made worse by a long-running civil conflict that has displaced over 250,000 people. The armed group al-Houthi claim years of discrimination by the government against the Shi'a community in the north, while the government believes the group wants to establish an autonomous region there. Following armed clashes in 2009 and 2010, a tentative ceasefire was agreed in February 2010, but according to the IRFR 2010, low-level fighting was ongoing in April. According to UNICEF, women and children make up about 70 per cent of those affected by the conflict in the north, where access to basic services including water, nutrition, sanitation, health and education is becoming increasingly limited.

The country has a Jewish population estimated at 370, a number that has dwindled from about 60,000 over the last half century. This tiny minority has continued to face persecution, and were targeted by the al-Houthi movement during the 2009-10 clashes. The UK's Independent newspaper reported in April 2010 that, following rising 'hate attacks, murders and forced conversions', Yemeni authorities were in negotiations with the UK to resettle around 20 or 30 Yemeni Jews in Britain. The US had evacuated some 100 Yemeni Jews in 2009.

In 2009, a court ruled that a Muslim man accused of murdering a Jewish man because he refused to convert should pay the family 'blood money'. Following an appeal by the Jewish family, the Yemeni Supreme Court ruled that the perpetrator should be executed by firing squad in July 2010. The case stoked fear amongst the Yemeni Jewish community, according Agence France Press.

Women in Yemen face extreme discrimination, according to a Freedom House report released in June 2010. The US-based research NGO noted that women in some areas continue to be subject to female genital mutilation (FGM), and that the Penal Code gives lenient sentences to those convicted of 'honour crimes'. Muslim women are not permitted to marry outside Islam. Muslim men are allowed to marry Christians and Jewish women, but not those of any other faith, or women who have renounced Islam.

Yemen is home to around 200,000 Akhdam people, who are the country's largest and poorest minority group. Although Arabic-speaking Muslims, Akhdam are considered servants by mainstream Yemeni society. They suffer deeply ingrained discrimination akin to the caste-based marginalization suffered by India's Dalits. Their situation is harder to address when there is no formal caste system that can be targeted through, say, legislation. Many live in extreme slum conditions with no access to running water, sewerage or electricity. Traditionally, they have been forced to find employment as waste collectors; today they find precarious employment as street cleaners, sanitation workers and rubbish collectors. As such they are viewed as tainted, and some members of the community believe this attitude has become internalized among Akhdam people.

A 2010 report by the US-based Duhur news agency stated that, 'death rates from preventable disease [for Akhdam] are even worse than the nationwide average in Yemen, where overall infant mortality is already an appalling one in nine, and maternal mortality is one in 10'. When they do attend school, children from this community are put to work and experience discrimination and bullying because of the darkness of their skin and their poverty. Women from this community are also subject to gender-based violence from mainstream society and from the men of their own community, who force them into sex work, according to NGO reports. They have little access to justice because of their marginalized status. Reportedly many are murdered after suffering rape, according to the Yemeni Observatory for Human Rights. Experts have warned that this violence may increase as the security situation in Yemen becomes increasingly volatile.

There were around 171,000 registered refugees in Yemen in late 2009, according to UNHCR. These included people fleeing deadly conflict in Somalia and Ethiopia. According to online news agency Global Post, around 43,000 African refugees and migrants crossed the sea between the Horn of Africa to Yemen between January and October 2010. Rough seas and ill-equipped vessels mean many die at sea. When they reach Yemen, many live in Kharaz refugee camp, an unstable collection of buildings housing around 17,000 Somalis. Women from these communities are often the most vulnerable, having suffered sexual violence, and having been forced to pay smugglers to escape persecution. Once they arrive, they are at further risk of trafficking and sexual exploitation.

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