At year's end, Yemen hosted about 68,700 refugees, including 57,426 from Somalia, 6,000 Palestinians, 2,610 from Ethiopia, 2,503 from Eritrea, 83 from Iraq, and small numbers from Vietnam, Algeria, Sudan, and elsewhere. In addition, about 40,500 persons in refugee-like conditions were living in Yemen. These included approximately 15,500 Somalis who claimed to be of Yemeni origin, and about 20,000 Iraqis and 5,000 Sudanese.
Yemen is the only country on the Arabian Peninsula to have signed the UN Refugee Convention and Protocol. In 1998, Yemen took the first steps toward creating refugee legislation and establishing asylum procedures. During the year, UNHCR assisted with screening of new asylum seeker arrivals, and conducted a new refugee registration procedure.
Refugees from Somalia
About 14,000 Somali refugees and asylum seekers arrived in Yemen during 1998. Most crossed the Gulf of Aden in boats in an often perilous journey. Unlike asylum seekers from other countries who received individual status determinations, UNHCR granted prima facie refugee status to the Somalis.
UNHCR provided full assistance, including medical care, schooling, and job training, to about 10,000 Somalis at the Al-Gahin camp, located about 140 km (87 miles) east of Aden.
Nearly 36,000 Somali refugees lived in urban centers, such as Sana'a, Aden, and Ta'iz. About 30,000 had reportedly integrated into urban areas and were no longer receiving food or financial assistance. They were eligible for partial assistance, however, including medical treatment at UNHCR clinics in Aden and Sana'a, and for small income generating loans for refugee women.
Tens of thousands of Somalis who claimed to be of Yemeni origin continued to live in urban centers during 1998. The largest concentration was in Al-Basateen, an impoverished slum on the outskirts of Aden. In June, the European Community Humanitarian Office (ECHO) said that it would commit funds to improving water and sanitation facilities in Al Basateen.
About 1,700 Somali refugees voluntarily repatriated in 1998. Some of the refugees reportedly repatriated via Djibouti. Another 1,100 indicated a desire to repatriate, but unsettled conditions in Somalia continued to impede return.
Ethiopian asylum seekers continued to arrive in 1998. In October, a group of 150 arrived at Beir Ali on the Gulf of Aden coast. They reportedly registered at the Al-Mayfa Transit Center and received food and shelter at the Al-Gahin camp.
A total of 1,318 newly arrived Ethiopians registered with UNHCR at Al-Mayfa in 1998. UNHCR granted 81 Ethiopians refugee status during the year, and denied 334 asylum. Those with pending claims at Al-Mayfa, as well as about 780 Ethiopian refugees in Sana'a, Aden, and Ta'iz, received UNHCR assistance during the year.
Few Eritreans sought asylum in Yemen in 1998, and only 29 received UNHCR assistance during the year. Most of the remaining 2,503 Eritrean refugees in Yemen were located along the Red Sea coast. Tensions appeared to ease between Yemen and Eritrea after the International Court arbitration ruling that resolved the border dispute concerning possession of the Hanish Islands in Yemen's favor. A consequence of that ruling, however, was that some Eritrean soldiers stationed in the Hanish Islands reportedly sought political asylum in Yemen, though none had received refugee status at year's end.
Information is scanty regarding Iraqi refugees in Yemen. At year's end, 83 Iraqis were recognized as refugees. Another 20,000 Iraqis had not yet registered asylum claims, but were believed to be in refugee-like circumstances.
In addition to Somalis, 29 Eritreans, and 6 Ethiopians voluntarily repatriated with UNHCR assistance in 1998. Forty-seven refugees, including 16 Iraqis and 23 Somalis, were resettled in third countries.
Throughout 1998, the Yemeni coast guard sought to interdict boats carrying migrants. The smugglers piloting the boats, often armed, frequently tried to evade apprehension. Press reports during the year indicated that the coast guard and the smugglers sometimes exchanged fire. The results for the passengers were often disastrous. Through the first nine months of 1998, at least 247 persons drowned at sea while trying to make the crossing.
In May, USCR wrote to the Yemeni authorities expressing concern about press reports that some of the survivors of boat sinking incidents in which hundreds were drowned had bullet wounds, and alleged that the Yemeni coast guard had opened fire on them.
The government deported or expelled about 1,669 improperly documented immigrants in the first 11 months of 1998, bringing to about 21,000 the number of persons deported from Yemen since 1994. The deportees were mostly Somalis, Ethiopians, and Eritreans. Most were reportedly flown to the Ballidoglu Airport outside Mogadishu, Somalia. Deportees reportedly included other nationalities, such as Ethiopians, in addition to Somalis and Somalis of Yemeni origin.
Generally, improperly documented foreigners were arrested and held in local jails before being transferred to Sana'a for deportation proceedings. In some cases, they were intermixed with common criminals. In Sana'a, deportees were held in a separate immigration detention center.
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