Concern over protest casualties in Yemen, Egypt

Briefing Notes, 20 December 2005

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 20 December 2005, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

Yemen: UNHCR is deeply saddened by the death of a Somali man and injuries suffered by another five Somali demonstrators and four Yemeni policemen following an incident Saturday outside our office in Sana'a, where police dispersed an increasingly aggressive crowd that had been there since 13 November despite ongoing efforts to reach a solution.

Since the start of the protest, UNHCR had sought to reach a peaceful solution through dialogue. UNHCR staff met several times with the demonstrators to discuss their demands. We agreed to meet several of them, including more assistance for vulnerable refugees; more Somali-speaking UNHCR staff; and additional health care. One of their main demands, resettlement to third countries, is only an option for a few vulnerable cases and at the discretion of the resettlement countries themselves not UNHCR. Registration and provision of ID cards is also being arranged. Despite UNHCR's attempts to find a solution to end the sit-in, by last weekend the crowd had become increasingly aggressive and were blocking the entrance to our office and preventing staff from leaving. Yemeni security services decided to intervene to restore public order.

UNHCR is ensuring that the injured receive medical care and is assisting the family of the deceased. We remain in contact with the demonstrators to ensure our previous agreements are met.

Somalis entering Yemen are automatically granted refugee status by the government. At the end of October, some 79,000 refugees had been registered with UNHCR in Yemen, more than 68,000 of whom were from Somalia. Somalis in Yemen are able to work and to stay in the country indefinitely. Most Somalis live in urban areas, with roughly 7,500 staying at the Kharaz refugee camp in the Lahj governorate in the country's south.

Egypt: Despite an agreement reached on Saturday (17 Dec) between the leaders of the Sudanese demonstrators and UNHCR, a group of some 1,500 Sudanese are continuing a protest in Mostafa Mahmoud Park in Cairo. The leaders had agreed to end the demonstration after UNHCR had offered to respond to various needs. Upon returning to the park, however, the leaders were unable to convince the other demonstrators in the square to end their protest.

The Sudanese have been gathered in the park since September 29 to protest living conditions and to demand resettlement to third countries. Throughout this period, UNHCR has made all possible efforts to resolve the dispute, cooperating closely with Egyptian authorities, UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Mr. Adel Imam, prominent local Sudanese figures, and many Cairo-based NGOs.

UNHCR is extremely concerned about the deteriorating humanitarian and health situation of those still in the park, especially the women and children. Last week, a young boy and a man died. The sit-in has also become a public order issue and of growing concern to Egyptian authorities.

UNHCR again appeals to the demonstrators to end their protest peacefully, as agreed, and to work with the office to implement the agreement reached on Saturday.

UNHCR is presently assisting over 24,000 Sudanese refugees and asylum seekers in Cairo or between 1-2 percent of the millions of Sudanese believed to be in Egypt. The overwhelming majority have not applied for refugee status. Sudanese refugees and asylum seekers in Egypt continue to benefit from protection and assistance, despite UNHCR's serious budget constraints and competing needs in other operations.




UNHCR country pages

Adel Imam

Adel Imam

Crossing the Gulf of Aden

Every year thousands of people in the Horn of Africa - mainly Somalis and Ethiopians - leave their homes out of fear or pure despair, in search of safety or a better life. They make their way over dangerous Somali roads to Bossaso in the northern semi-autonomous region of Puntland.

In this lawless area, smuggler networks have free reign and innocent and desperate civilians pay up to US$150 to make the perilous trip across the Gulf of Aden.

Some stay weeks on end in safe houses or temporary homes in Bossaso before they can depart. A sudden call and a departure in the middle of the night, crammed in small unstable boats. At sea, anything can happen to them - they are at the whim of smugglers. Some people get beaten, stabbed, killed and thrown overboard. Others drown before arriving on the beaches of Yemen, which have become the burial ground for hundreds who many of those who died en route.

Crossing the Gulf of Aden


In February 2005, one of the last groups of Somalilander refugees to leave Aisha refugee camp in eastern Ethiopia boarded a UNHCR convoy and headed home to Harrirad in North-west Somalia - the self-declared independent state of Somaliland. Two years ago Harrirad was a tiny, sleepy village with only 67 buildings, but today more than 1,000 people live there, nearly all of whom are former refugees rebuilding their lives.

As the refugees flow back into Somalia, UNHCR plans to close Aisha camp by the middle of the year. The few remaining refugees in Aisha - who come from southern Somalia - will most likely be moved to the last eastern camp, Kebribeyah, already home to more than 10,000 refugees who cannot go home to Mogadishu and other areas in southern Somalia because of continuing lawlessness there. So far refugees have been returning to only two areas of the country - Somaliland and Puntland in the north-east.


Somalia: UN High Commissioner For Refugees In MogadishuPlay video

Somalia: UN High Commissioner For Refugees In Mogadishu

UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres visits Mogadishu, expresses solidarity with Somali people on eve of Ramadan.
Somalia: Solutions For Somali RefugeesPlay video

Somalia: Solutions For Somali Refugees

In Kenya, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres discusses solutions for Somali refugees.
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Somalia: Saving Lives

Donor support for a specialized maternity-child clinic helps save the lives of displaced Somali mothers.