Over 30,000 refugees and migrants arrive in Yemen so far this year

Briefing Notes, 26 April 2013

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 26 April 2013, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

In Yemen, UNHCR has recorded the arrival of over 30,000 refugees and migrants so far this year. Most are Ethiopian nationals, with the rest coming from Somalia and a very small number from other African countries. In total, and since 2006 when UNHCR began gathering data, close to half a million people (477,000) have arrived in Yemen by taking the perilous boat journey from the Horn of Africa.

Recorded arrivals in Yemen of refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants have been rising in each of the past six years. Last year 107,500 people made the journey. The arrival rate so far this year compares to 33,634 arrivals in the same period of 2012.

Somalis arriving in Yemen are automatically recognized as refugees by the authorities, while UNHCR conducts refugee status determination for other nationals. Yemen is frequently used as a transit point by Ethiopians looking to travel to the Gulf States and beyond. Few Ethiopians decide to seek asylum. There are many reports of mistreatment, abuse, or torture among people who make the journey by smugglers boats.

Conflict and instability in Yemen have limited the ability of the authorities to address trafficking, particularly along the Red Sea coast where Yemeni smugglers and traffickers are often waiting to receive new arrivals from the Horn of Africa.

However, recently the government has been active in detecting smuggler hideouts and taking action. Last week in Hajjah Governorate near the Saudi border, the Yemeni authorities stormed a number of houses operated by human traffickers and freed more than 500 Ethiopian migrants including women and children. Many of the released Africans showed signs of torture and abuse. Although the authorities have been conducting similar raids since 2012, incidents of extortion, exploitation, violence and sexual abuse perpetrated against refugees, asylum seekers and migrants are on the increase in the region.

Many of the new arrivals are abducted or abandoned at the coast. They make their way, generally by foot, to Haradh district in the north where they often find they are unable to continue on to Saudi Arabia. Many suffer hunger and exposure.

Yemen is a historical transit hub for migrants and stands out in the region for its hospitality towards refugees. The country hosts more than 242,000 refugees, of which 231,064 are of Somali origin.

Out of the total number of those arriving this year some 7518 arrived in January, 10,145 in February, and 1806 in March. UNHCR is still recording arrivals for April.

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East Africans continue to flood into the Arabian Peninsula

Every month, thousands of refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants from Somalia and Ethiopia cross the Gulf of Aden or the Red Sea to reach Yemen, fleeing drought, poverty, conflict or persecution. And although this year's numbers are, so far, lower than in 2012 - about 62,200 in the first 10 months compared to 88,533 for the same period last year - the Gulf of Aden remains one of the world's most travelled sea routes for irregular migration (asylum-seekers and migrants). UNHCR and its local partners monitor the coast to provide assistance to the new arrivals and transport them to reception centres. Those who make it to Yemen face many challenges and risks. The government regards Somalis as prima facie refugees and automatically grants them asylum, but other nationals such as the growing number of Ethiopians can face detention. Some of the Somalis make their own way to cities like Aden, but about 50 a day arrive at Kharaz Refugee Camp, which is located in the desert in southern Yemen. Photographer Jacob Zocherman recently visited the Yemen coast where arrivals land, and the camp where many end up.

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Yemeni Province Starts Rebuilding as 100,000 Displaced Return

Life is slowly returning to normal in urban and rural areas of the southern Yemeni province of Abyan, where fighting between government forces and rebels caused major population displacements in 2011 and 2012.

But since last July, as hostilities subsided and security began to improve, more than 100,000 internally displaced people (IDP) have returned to their homes in the province, or governorate. Most spent more than a year in temporary shelters in neighbouring provinces such as Aden and Lahj.

Today, laughing children once more play without fear in the streets of towns like the Abyan capital, Zinjibar, and shops are reopening. But the damage caused by the conflict is visible in many areas and the IDPs have returned to find a lack of basic services and livelihood opportunities as well as lingering insecurity in some areas.

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Amira Al Sharif, a Yemeni photojournalist, visited Abyan recently to document life for the returnees.

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