Gulf of Aden conference urges more aid to help refugees in host countries

News Stories, 20 May 2008

© UNHCR/A.Fazzina
A striking portrait of a young girl in front of a shack on the coast of northern Somalia. She and her family will likely try to make the dangerous Gulf of Aden crossing.

SANA'A, Yemen, May 20 (UNHCR) A regional conference on refugee protection and migration in the Gulf of Aden wrapped up in the Yemen capital on Tuesday with delegates stressing the need for more assistance to support refugees in host countries.

"For 16 years, I feel that the world forgot about us, so I appeal to all of you and especially to our Arab brothers to help us, support us and visit us in Yemen," said an emotional Somali refugee woman, who has been living in Yemen for the past decade. "Yemen, a poor country, has borne the main burden of hosting us, so please help us."

UNHCR officials, including High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres at Monday's opening, have also called for more international help to ease the burden on host country Yemen, in particular.

"The humanitarian situation among refugees and migrants crossing the Gulf of Aden is deteriorating amid security concerns from countries in the region about piracy, smuggling and human trafficking," said Radhouane Nouicer, director of UNHCR's Middle East and North African bureau. "Yemen, which is in the heart of this crisis, is taking the heavy burden economically and socially with hardly any international support."

The two-day conference, gathering high-ranking government officials as well as representatives from civil society and international organizations, was convened in a bid to establish a regional mechanism and a plan of action on refugee protection and mixed migration in the Gulf of Aden region. It was co-organized by UNHCR and the Mixed Migration Task Force for Somalia.

A conference committee was working on final recommendations, but these would include strengthening border controls while ensuring identification and protection of refugees; working to improve the conditions which give rise to irregular movement of people; reducing human rights abuses against people making the dangerous sea crossing from the Horn of Africa to the Yemeni coast, according to documents seen by UNHCR.

The European Commission-funded meeting was also expected to call for improving the level of cooperation and coordination between the countries of origin of refugees and migrants and their countries of destination; and for the establishment of an effective method of information-sharing on population movements in the region.

"Today, we have made positive steps towards identifying the problems of refugee protection and mixed migration. We promise that UNHCR will follow up with all our efforts and enthusiasm on your recommendations and will continue to intervene to limit the human suffering of the victims and their host societies," said UNHCR's Nouicer.

During the conference, which attracted officials from Djibouti, Ethiopia, Somalia, Yemen, Gulf Cooperation countries, the African Union and the European Commission as well as representatives of civil society and international organizations, participants discussed the challenges faced in the countries of departure, transit and arrival in their bid to develop appropriate responses.

A delegate from the Gulf acknowledged the difficulty in addressing these issues from a regional perspective, but said the conference was a first step towards the full involvement of countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council in the discussion.

The mixed flow of people across the Gulf of Aden includes a significant number of refugees. Yemen, despite meagre resources, has maintained an open-door policy to the refugees. But it has been calling for more support from the international community.

So far this year, more than 18,000 people have made the Gulf of Aden crossing aboard smugglers' boats, double the number for the same period a year ago. More than 400 people have died trying to make the voyage this year.

By Abeer Etefa in Sana'a, Yemen

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UNHCR country pages

Refugee Protection and Mixed Migration: A 10-Point Plan of Action

A UNHCR strategy setting out key areas in which action is required to address the phenomenon of mixed and irregular movements of people. See also: Schematic representation of a profiling and referral mechanism in the context of addressing mixed migratory movements.

International Migration

The link between movements of refugees and broader migration attracts growing attention.

Mixed Migration

Migrants are different from refugees but the two sometimes travel alongside each other.

Advocacy

Advocacy is a key element in UNHCR activities to protect people of concern.

The High Commissioner

António Guterres, who joined UNHCR on June 15, 2005, is the UN refugee agency's 10th High Commissioner.

Asylum and Migration

Asylum and Migration

All in the same boat: The challenges of mixed migration around the world.

Gulf of Aden People-Smuggling: International Help Needed

An alarming number of people are dying trying to reach Yemen aboard smugglers' boats crossing the Gulf of Aden from Somalia. Over a three-week period in late 2005, at least 150 people perished while making the journey. These deaths are frequently the result of overcrowded boats capsizing or breaking down and going adrift without food or water. Those who survive the voyage to Yemen often give brutal accounts of smugglers beating passengers or forcing them overboard while still far off shore – in some instances with their hands and feet bound.

In response, UNHCR has issued an urgent appeal for action to stem the flow of desperate Ethiopian and Somali refugees and migrants falling prey to ruthless smugglers in a bid to reach Yemen and beyond. The refugee agency has also been working with the authorities in Puntland, in north-eastern Somalia, on ways to inform people about the dangers of using smugglers to cross the Gulf of Aden. This includes production of videos and radio programmes to raise awareness among Somalis and Ethiopians of the risks involved in such crossings.

Gulf of Aden People-Smuggling: International Help Needed

2011 Yemen: Risking All for a Better Future

Plagued by violence, drought and poverty, thousands of people in the Horn of Africa leave their homes out of desperation every year. Seeking safety or a better life, these civilians - mainly Somalis and Ethiopians - make the dangerous journey through Somalia to the northern port of Bossaso.

Once there, they pay up to US$150 to make the perilous trip across the Gulf of Aden on smugglers' boats. They often wait for weeks in Bossaso's safe houses or temporary homes until a sudden call prompts their departure under the veil of night, crammed into small rickety boats.

Out at sea, they are at the whim of smugglers. Some passengers get beaten, stabbed, killed and thrown overboard. Others drown before reaching the beaches of Yemen, which have become the burial ground for hundreds of innocent people who die en route.

The Yemen-based Society for Humanitarian Solidarity (SHS) has been helping these people since 1995. On September 13, 2011 UNHCR announced that the NGO had won this year's Nansen Refugee Award for its tireless efforts to assist people arriving from the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea.

2011 Yemen: Risking All for a Better Future

Yemeni humanitarian aid group wins 2011 Nansen Refugee Award

The founder and staff of the Society for Humanitarian Solidarity (SHS), a humanitarian organization in Yemen, has won the 2011 Nansen Refugee Award for their work in aiding and rescuing refugees and migrants who make the dangerous sea journey across the Gulf of Aden from the Horn of Africa. View a slideshow of the group's life-saving work, patrolling the beaches of southern Yemen for new arrivals and providing food, shelter and medical care to those who survive the dangerous journey.

Yemeni humanitarian aid group wins 2011 Nansen Refugee Award

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