Somali Voices: Struggle in Yemen

Refugees International visited Yemen in February 2008 to assess thehumanitarian situation of Somali refugees. In Aden, a former Britishcolonial port located on the mouth of the Red Sea, we went to visit theBasatin neighborhood. Basatin means garden in Arabic, but is anythingbut. It’s a destitute area on the outskirts of Aden where thousands ofSomalis have regrouped in small mud and brick houses with tin roofs.

In a courtyard, we sat down to talk with a Somali woman called Habiba.The children, pictured above, came from different Somali families inthe area. They were being watched over during the day by Habiba to makea little income.

Habiba came to Yemen in 2002, escaping the war-torn country by boat. InYemen, Habiba hoped to earn enough money to send back to her family inSomalia. She was now pregnant, but had left behind two children inSomalia with her own mother. She hadn’t received any news of herchildren in over a year. In Besatin, Habiba hadn’t found anyemployment, and instead earned a little income from day care. She couldafford to eat only once a day and most of the time relied on foodhandouts from neighbors.

This tragic situation is a common one, but few services are availablefor Somali refugees to break the cycle of poverty. Somalis benefit froma favorable legal environment in Yemen, as they are automaticallyrecognized as refugees (prima facie recognition), and have the right tomove and work anywhere in the country.

However, Yemen is one of poorest countries in the world,ranking 153rd in the Human Development Index. Despite its geo-strategiclocation, the country has little support from the internationalcommunity. In 2007 Yemen received $13 in foreign aid per capita, apaltry sum given the needs of the population. There are fewinternational aid organizations operating in the country, and UNagencies have to work with tight budgets to meet the growing needs.

Refugees International is urging the international community to fundthe provision of services to Somali refugees to help them integrate inthe Yemeni society.

Patrick Duplat assessed the situation for refugees in Yemen in February 2008.