Last Updated: Monday, 19 February 2018, 14:34 GMT

World Refugee Survey 2008 - Yemen

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 19 June 2008
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, World Refugee Survey 2008 - Yemen, 19 June 2008, available at: [accessed 21 February 2018]
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.

YEM figures


Yemen hosted some 124,600 refugees, 110,600 of them Somalis, whom Yemen recognized prima facie since the 1988 Somali civil war. There may have been as many as 53,900 more living unregistered. Since the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, an estimated 11,000 Iraqi refugees arrived, where a community of 70,000 Iraqis had established itself during the Iran-Iraq war. Of a larger number of Ethiopians, nearly 2,000 registered with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

During the year, nearly 30,000 refugees and asylum seekers arrived from the African Horn. Most were Somalis but, in April, nearly a hundred Ethiopian soldiers arrived in the south from Somalia, where they had been fighting Islamic insurgents.

Refoulement/Physical Protection

Authorities repatriated an Ethiopian refugee and two Eritrean asylum seekers, and deported an Iraqi refugee to Malaysia. Government media reported that between December 2006 and November 2007, authorities repatriated about 1,600 foreigners, including nearly 500 Ethiopians, 400 Somalis, 180 Sudanese, 50 Syrians, 50 Egyptians, and 30 Iraqis, for illegal entry or crimes. Immigration authorities routinely deported non-Somali foreigners, mainly Ethiopians and Eritreans, without giving UNHCR access to screen them despite the agency's repeated requests.

In April, five Ethiopians died of malnutrition in a Sana'a prison in April, during their detention for illegal entry. At least 1,400 would-be entrants died en route. In April, some 34 Somalis and Ethiopians drowned when smugglers forced them to jump into the sea after Yemeni authorities fired on their boats.

Refugees said, and locals corroborated, that security forces openly extorted, beat, and robbed them when they took them from the shore to Kharaz camp and at the camp itself with the complicity of the head of security. One Ethiopian refugee reported three police officers raped her and threatened her afterwards. The Interior Ministry denied three other refugees' allegations that security forces raped them during a 2006 sit-in outside UNHCR's Sana'a office and the attorney general's investigation stalled when the women were reportedly too frightened to testify.

Although Yemen was party to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (1951 Convention) and its 1967 Protocol without reservation, and its Constitution prohibited the extradition of "political refugees" and granted the President authority to grant "political asylum," it had no domestic asylum or refugee law. The Government signed a Memorandum of Understanding with UNHCR in 1992, establishing the agency's presence in the country. The 1991 Law on the Entry and Residence of Aliens (Entry and Residence Law) governed all foreigners and generally made no exceptions for refugees, although it implicitly exempted them from its residence requirements "by virtue of international conventions which the Republic is party to."

UNHCR and the Government jointly operated seven registration centers for migrants. UNHCR granted refugee status to 90 percent of the nearly 3,000 asylum seekers who entered the screening process, most of them Iraqis. Most Iraqis did not register with UNHCR to seek asylum as they had more rights as Arab aliens under Yemeni laws. UNHCR resettled fewer than 50 refugees during the year.

Detention/Access to Courts

Authorities detained at least 155 refugees, releasing all but 17 of them by year's end, including an Uzbek refugee detained for two years for taking a photograph of the President, on the condition that UNHCR resettle him elsewhere. Authorities detained three Palestinian families at Sana'a Airport for three days. Nine Eritrean refugees, mostly military personnel, spent eight months in the central prison after which they remained in immigration prison. Seven more Eritreans also remained in detention, but there were reports that authorities released them in April 2008.

The Government did not always permit UNHCR to monitor detention, but did allow it access to make status determinations for specific detained non-Somali asylum seekers of which it was aware. The International Committee of the Red Cross also sought but did not receive regular access to detention facilities. Yemen gave international human rights NGOs limited access to prisons and detention centers. Refugees and asylum seekers could challenge their detention in court, using Government or UNHCR counsel, but Yemeni judges sometimes refused to consider international conventions.

Although the Constitution forbade the detention of all persons without charges, in practice authorities arbitrarily and routinely arrested refugees and citizens alike without charge.

Recognized refugees had access to the judicial system and courts, and UNHCR provided lawyers' services to refugees in the capital. The Constitution reserved to citizens its guarantee of personal freedom, but granted all persons protection from arrest without cause; the right to hear charges against them before a judge within 24 hours of arrest; and the right to inform others of their detention.

The Ministry of Interior issued refugees identification cards co-signed by UNHCR, valid for two years, but many refugees waited a long time to obtain them. Some 48,000 refugees received the cards, which authorities usually respected. Authorities tended not to recognize as much the certificates issued solely by UNHCR.

Freedom of Movement and Residence

Yemen did not require refugees to live in any particular place but all foreigners had to register with authorities within a month of arrival and authorities sent new arrivals to Kharaz camp where about 9,500 refugees lived in an inhospitable area of the south. In November, UNHCR received EU funds to build 300 housing units in the camp. Most refugees, however, self-settled in or near Aden, Ta'iz, and Sana'a.

Refugees risked arrest at checkpoints outside of towns, especially the one at Al-Alam, between the Mayfa'a Reception Centre and the city of Aden. At checkpoints, army and security forces required foreigners and refugees to show resident status or refugee identity cards, refused passage to those without them, and detained unregistered Somali refugees. UNHCR could obtain their release if they issued them certificates but this was often conditional upon their transfer to Kharaz. Somali and Iraqi refugees in other areas, however, reported they could move about freely, if they held UNHCR cards.

A Palestinian refugee reportedly was unable to rent a house for his family because he had no papers, having had to surrender them at the airport.

All foreigners needed the Government's permission to leave the country. The 1994 Republican Decree on Entry and Abode of Foreigners authorized the Minister of Interior and Security to grant international travel documents to refugees. Since 2004, the Government stopped issuing them to those wishing to go on pilgrimage to Mecca. It did not issue travel documents to any refugees during the year except for deportation or permanent departure.

Right to Earn a Livelihood

UNHCR issued certificates to Ethiopian refugees' employers, certifying their right to work under international law but these were not official. Somalis with government-issued identity cards could apply to the Ministry of Labour for work permits. Iraqis, as Arab aliens, had the right to work, and many opened businesses.

African refugees typically worked informally in the cities but jobs were scarce in the Lahj Governorate near Kharaz camp. Because of a Government campaign to employ only Yemenis as teachers a few years earlier, thousands of Somali teachers lost their jobs. Many unemployed Somali refugees requested repatriation while others used smugglers to go to Saudi Arabia for work.

The Entry and Residence Law required those employing foreigners, with no exception for refugees, to "obtain the prior approval of the Competent Authorities" and submit to the Aliens Registration Department or the local police station a declaration on a special form within two days of hiring and releasing foreigners. The 1991 Presidential Legislative Order to promulgate the Labour Code placed numerous restrictions on the employment of foreigners, with no exceptions for refugees, and banned employment of foreigners who entered the country for reasons other than employment. The Code required employers to apply in advance for permission to bring foreign workers into the country, and required certification from the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labour that there were no Yemeni workers available for the position. It also capped the employment of foreigners at 10 percent for every firm.

Refugees, like all other foreigners, could not own or operate businesses except with a Yemeni partner.

The Constitution reserved to citizens the right to work but did not limit its prohibition of general confiscation of property.

Public Relief and Education

The Government cooperated fully with UNHCR as it dealt with the boatloads of economic migrants and asylum seekers that continued to arrive on Yemeni shores. UNHCR and its partners provided food, water, and other aid to Kharaz camp and to nearby villages. The World Food Programme provided new arrivals with food upon arrival and a monthly ration when they transferred to Kharaz camp. Residents, especially childbearing-age women, received health care and vocational training.

Refugee health clinics run by UNHCR or nongovernmental organizations offered treatment and made referrals to local hospitals. During the year, a Memorandum of Understanding between UNHCR and the Ministry of Health and Population recognized the right of refugees to HIV/AIDS treatment equivalent to that accorded to nationals.

UNHCR provided limited aid to the neediest refugees in urban areas. In Sana'a, UNHCR provided medical referrals; health services to HIV/AIDS patients, women, and children; financial aid; vocational and computer skills; and day-care centers with meals and Arabic classes.

Refugees generally could not attend public primary schools in towns unless UNHCR subsidized it but, in Kharaz camp, UNHCR provided education through the eighth grade in two schools, one using the Yemeni curriculum and the other a Somali-Yemeni curriculum. The quality of instruction was poor, however, and the dropout rate was high, especially for girls. WFP provided midday meals to refugee students.

Yemen did not include refugees or asylum seekers in its national development agenda or in the 2002 Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper it prepared for international donors.

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