SOMALIA-YEMEN: Over 3,000 Somalis living in harsh conditions, community leader says

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Abu Bakr Hussein, 40, was among 100 Africans who crossed the Gulf of Aden by boat to reach Yemen on 8 October. “Each of us paid US$60 to the smugglers but the journey was horrible,” he said.

Even worse were the conditions he soon found himself living in, accentuated by severe pain he began feeling in his left eye upon arrival in Yemen. "I don't know where to go for treating my eye; nor do I have money to buy medicine."

Hussein said he sleeps under trees, and, without an income or any assistance, hardly eats anything. "I feel like a stranger in this country. I can't speak Arabic to look for a job or get help from the locals," he said.

Hussein is one of thousands of Somalis who arrived on the shores of Yemen in October. Some, like him, sought refuge in al-Basateen, a poor neighbourhood in the southern port city of Aden. Others found their way to the Kharaz refugee camp, 150km west of Aden, which is run by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).

Mohammed Deriah, a leader of Somali refugees in al-Basateen, told IRIN that the area is home to more than 16,000 Somali refugees, and that some 3,000 new arrivals live in the open next to the neighbourhood’s shanty houses.

Health risks

"They stay in the open air, without tents or blankets. They live in harsh conditions and almost all of them are jobless. They have not even received any assistance from charitable associations,” he said, adding that it was not known exactly how many of these Somalis had officially registered with UNHCR.

Somalis reaching Yemen get automatic refugee status because many are fleeing a violent conflict, though not all apply for it. There are currently more than 90,000 registered refugees in Yemen, the vast majority being Somalis.

The land the new arrivals sleep on is surrounded by heaps of rubbish. Some of them sleep on used cartons or empty sacks while the majority just sleep on the ground. They drink from a small well that belongs to an Aden citizen. The water is not clean, according to Deriah, who added that they were vulnerable to malaria.

"They don't know where to go as they have no knowledge of the area. If any one gets sick and comes to my office, we take him or her to our health facility. We can't come to them. We can't do anything for them as our capabilities are limited," Deriah said.

Without money to afford the 3,000 Yemeni riyals (about US$15) a month it costs to rent a small room in the community, new families are forced to sleep rough, Deriah said, adding that it is mostly men who do so, as women and children are typically hosted by existing Somali families in their homes.

“Worse situation than before”

Many of the new arrivals, he went on to say, came from the Kharaz refugee camp in the hope of finding a better life. "But they found themselves in a worse situation than before," Deriah said.

Ali Sherar has developed psychological problems since human traffickers stabbed him in his shoulder on 2 October. He is unable to speak, and his brother, Taher, 15, is worried that he has become dumb. "He was moving onboard and smugglers stabbed him. I don't know what to do for him. We are helpless," Taher said.

Mukhtar Mohammed Sheikh, 33, made the perilous boat journey across the Gulf of Aden to arrive at Ras Bab al-Mandab, west of Aden, with 24 others on 9 October, leaving behind his wife and two children in Somalia.

“The Yemeni coast guards arrested us and brought us to Kharaz camp," he said, adding that each member of his group had paid US$75 for the journey via Djibouti. "We did not have enough food in Kharaz camp. Some new arrivals and I decided to come to this place [al-Basateen] after we heard about it. We want to leave Yemen as we don't have anything to do. We can't live here," he said.

Increasing death toll

The UNHCR on 16 October expressed its concern over the increasing numbers of smuggling boats arriving on Yemeni shores. "More than 38 smuggling boats – an average of three boats a day – have been recorded arriving along Yemen's coast during the first 13 days of October, carrying nearly 3,800 people," UNHCR spokeswoman Jennifer Pagonis said in a statement, adding a total of 38 are known to have died while 134 remain missing.

According to the statement, the Somalis left their country because of ongoing confrontations between the Transitional Federal Government and opposition forces, or tribal fighting or simply a lack of jobs. "Others have mentioned floods, drought, and road blocks that make movement very difficult," Pagonis added.

In September, 59 boats arrived in Yemen carrying 5,808 people – 99 died and 141 remain missing, according to UNHCR.

This year, a total of 18,757 people crossed the Gulf of Aden by boat, with an estimated 404 having died on the way while 393 remain missing, UNHCR said.

Source: IRIN