SANAA, 20 January 2010 (IRIN) - Yemen’s Interior Ministry on 18 January announced that all unregistered refugees in Yemen must register with the authorities within two months. It justified the move saying illegal immigration was a real threat to the country's security.
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
“Illegal immigrants from the Horn of Africa were found to be engaging in the war waged by Houthi-led Shia rebels against the government in the northern province of Saada, as well as in other violent acts and crimes," Abdussalam Jawhar, head of Refugee Affairs Department (RAD) at the Interior Ministry, told IRIN on 19 January.
"When those immigrants have legal status, this will help us identify their residence addresses, observe their movements in various parts of the country, and recognize their IDs," Jawhar said.
He warned that immigrants who are still unregistered after the deadline expires, will be deported.
|Photo: Adel Yahya/IRIN |
|According to UNHCR, all Somalis arriving in Yemen are granted prima facie refugee status|
The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) is coordinating the registration process, supporting the government with equipment and funding, and handing out forms at its reception centres, but it is the government which issues refugee IDs.
UNHCR supports the government's right to ensure that everybody is accounted for, provided that Yemen's obligations under international law are respected, Rocco Nuri, UNHCR’s Aden-based external relations officer, told IRIN.
According to Jawhar, the Interior Ministry and UNHCR run three refugee registration centres - two in southern Aden and Lahj governorates (Basatin and Kharaz camps respectively), and one in Sanaa.
"Further centres will be opened in Taiz, Shabwa, Hadhramaut, Hajjah and Hodeidah governorates," Jawhar said. "The cost of refugee registration is covered by UNHCR."
"The total number of immigrants in the country is estimated at 740,000. However, only about a quarter have [refugee] status," he said.
At the end of 2009, there were 170,854 refugees registered with UNHCR - including 35,000 registered since March 2009 by the government's permanent registration centre in Sanaa (funded by UNHCR) - according to Andrew Knight, UNHCR's external relations officer in Sanaa.
|Photo: Adel Yahya/IRIN |
|It took three months for handicapped Somali Huda Ali to be granted refugee status because she did not come to one of the reception centres near Yemen's coast|
Knight said "refugees can register with the government and thereby legalize their stay in Yemen."
According to the 2010 UNHCR country profile - Yemen, Yemen has a generous open-door policy for Somalis, granting new arrivals prima facie refugee status, but many Ethiopians are arrested and either detained or deported. Some migrants are fearful of the security forces and go underground as soon as they reach the country, avoiding assistance and advice available at UNHCR reception centres.
The UNHCR in Yemen received 77,802 new arrivals from the Horn of Africa in 2009, a 55 percent increase over 2008, and for the first time Somalis were not the majority nationality. The number of Ethiopians making the perilous boat journey across the Gulf of Aden more than doubled to 44,814.
Some experts say that while Somalis are unlikely to have problems regularizing their status, non-Somali African immigrants might find it difficult to do so.
Ame Addu, aged 34, currently living in Safiya zone in Sanaa and originally from the Oromia region of Ethiopia, fears being deported as a result of the new measures. "I went to the UNHCR office in Sanaa several times in an attempt to get a refugee ID but couldn't. Had I been from Somalia, I would have got an ID," he said.
Addu, who fled his home country in early 2008, said: "I fled to Yemen in order to survive. There is nothing in Oromia except poverty, drought and famine".
"I make some YR 700-900 (US$2.5-3.5) a day cleaning cars in Sanaa’s streets, but in Oromia I used to go for months without any money," he said.