U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants World Refugee Survey 2007 - Yemen



Refoulement/Physical Protection

In December, Yemen deported 122 Ethiopians without allowing the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) access to determine if any of them were refugees. Officials notified the Ethiopian embassy in advance to verify their nationality. Despite numerous appeals by UNHCR, the Government said it would detain and deport all non-Somalis. There were accounts of Yemeni authorities deporting Iraqi and Sudanese asylum seekers. Reportedly, the Government deported seven HIV-positive refugees to Somalia and denied some Iraqis readmission, cutting them off from their families.

Yemen granted Somalis prima facie refugee status upon registration, and extended the same status to a select group of Ethiopians – including ethnic Oromo and former naval personnel who defected in 1991. Others could apply to UNHCR for refugee status determinations. Yemen hosted nearly 100,000 refugees. Through November, about 23,000 Somalis came by boat, nearly half of them in September through November.

American, German, and Italian ships joined the Yemeni coast guard in tracking smugglers. In early December, Yemeni security forces fired upon a boatload of 120 Somalis and Ethiopians unloading near Belhaf after a two-day journey from Puntland, Somalia, killing one passenger and one smuggler. The smugglers left, dropped the remaining 60 or so passengers off near Jila'a. Some of the Somalis said another four were missing. In late December, Yemeni officials shot at boats after they had dropped off their passengers. At least 17 refugees drowned when an accompanied boat capsized and about 140 were missing. The coast guard fired on boats from Somalia twice in April 2007. Fleeing smugglers pushed 34 to their deaths in the first incident and 130 died in the second when their boat capsized.

During 2006 at least 355 asylum seekers, mostly from Somalia and Ethiopia, died trying to get from Somalia to Yemen by boat. Smugglers forced some off the boats as they approached the shore, fearing detection by Yemeni authorities. Many of the asylum seekers could not swim, or could not make it to shore.

Refugees complained of abuses by security forces at Kharaz refugee camp and UNHCR reported these cases to the Government, but it took no action. Three married refugee women arrested in demonstrations in 2005 reported that guards raped them in prison.

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. UNHCR granted refugee status to more than 700 non-Somali refugees out of more than 1,600 applicants and refused about 300 but allowed appeals.

The Government signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the UNHCR in 1992, establishing the agency's presence in the country. In 2000, Yemen established the inter-ministerial National Committee for Refugee Affairs but it had no power to grant asylum or to protect refugees. Refugees were governed as foreigners by the 1991 Law on the Entry and Residence of Aliens (Entry and Residence Law), which generally made no exceptions for refugees although it did exempt from its residence requirements "Those exempted by virtue of international conventions which the Republic is party to, within in terms of such conventions."

Detention/Access to Courts

The Government arrested and detained at least 16,800 Africans for illegal entry, including more than 14,100 Somalis and 2,500 Ethiopians by the end of October. Yemeni police routinely arrested undocumented refugees and asylum seekers often, without charges. Authorities held refugees detained for illegal entry or stay at the immigration prison but reportedly held other refugees at the political security department.

In October, authorities arrested an Eritrean refugee in the airport, detained him in a nearby prison for two weeks, and then returned him for holding in the airport and threatened to deport him to Eritrea. After Amnesty International and others appealed to Yemen not to deport him, the Government released him and allowed him to resettle in Norway in November.

Yemen granted human rights monitors access to detention facilities and detainees.

In mid-January, authorities released 30 refugees they had detained after a December 2005 protest outside UNHCR's office, but only after the protesters signed a statement agreeing not to hold any more demonstrations. Some had injuries from the disturbance but did not receive treatment. The Government held eight other refugees for refusing to sign the statement until February.

The Government issued identity cards jointly signed by UNHCR to many Somali and to 650 Ethiopian prima facie refugees in Kharaz camp. Authorities usually respected these cards. UNHCR provided certificates to other refugees, which authorities respected less. The Ministry of Interior issued refugees identification cards valid for two years. However, many refugees reported long waits to obtain them.

Recognized refugees had access to the judicial system and courts. Courts stopped the deportation of Ethiopian asylum seekers, releasing after around a year in detention. Other cases included sentencing or fining Yemeni citizens for not paying refugee employees. UNHCR funded community centers that offered legal counseling to refugees and helped an Eritrean refugee sue a previous employer for non-payment. The court ruled in favor of the refugee and ordered the Yemeni to pay the refugee compensation.

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 Constitution limited to citizens its right of recourse to the courts.

Freedom of Movement and Residence

Security officials at government checkpoints often required refugees and immigrants traveling within the country to show resident status or refugee identification cards and reportedly refused passage to those who lacked them or even to Sudanese who had refugee cards. Armed tribesmen occasionally installed independent roadblocks or joined security officials at checkpoints. The Entry and Residence Law required all foreigners to register their presence with police or immigration authorities within one month of arrival and required anyone hosting foreigners to report their names and addresses to the Aliens Registration Office or the local police station within 48 hours of their arrival and report their departure within 48 hours.

About 9,000 refugees, many women and children, lived in the Kharaz camp about 87 miles (150 km) from Aden. Most refugees self-settled in urban centers near Sana'a, Aden, or Taiz. UNHCR offered newly arrived refugees free transportation to Kharaz but only about 30 percent accepted it. In early summer, authorities at Kharaz camp took new precautions so outsiders were only able to visit the camp with a military escort, after tensions with the locals, who believed the refugees have better facilities than they do, escalated.

In 2004, the Government stopped issuing refugees travel documents to make pilgrimages to Mecca. In 2006, the Government only issued refugees one-time exit visas upon permanent departure from the country. The 1994 Republican Decree on Entry and Abode of Foreigners granted the Minister of Interior and Security the ability to grant travel documents to refugees.

Right to Earn a Livelihood

Yemen did not allow refugees to work legally although many worked informally. Entry and Residence Law required employers of 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.

Somali refugees obtained work permits from the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs based on identity cards issued jointly by the Government and UNHCR. UNHCR gave other refugees documents attesting to their right to work, but this did not entitle them to work officially.

Yemen's 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. It 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.

The Constitution reserved to citizens its right to work although its prohibition of general confiscation of property had no such limitation.

Public Relief and Education

UNHCR and its partners provided water, food, and other aid to the camp and to nearby Yemeni villages. Refugee health clinics run by UNHCR or nongovernmental organizations offered treatment and made referrals to local hospitals. UNHCR provided limited aid to the neediest refugees in urban areas. Kharaz camp offered primary education to refugee children and UNHCR subsidized the enrollment of refugee children in urban primary schools.

In August, the Somali Protesters Committee issued a declaration protesting Yemen's failure to enact a refugee law pursuant to the 1951 Convention. Specifically, it cited restrictions on movement, refugees' need to travel for medical treatment, lack of supplies for primary school, inability to attend universities, lack of job opportunities equal to those of Yemenis, and abuse on the job, particularly in domestic work. UNHCR replied that it would be easier to improve their access to services if they stayed in the camp.

The 2002 Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper 2003-2005 Yemen prepared for international donors did not mention refugees or asylum seekers.


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