Since the start of the year Yemen has faced serious political turmoil, initially mirroring the wave of protests across the Middle East and North Africa calling for social, economic and democratic reforms in respective states. The Danish Refugee Council and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), in consultation with the Yemen MMTF, has been monitoring how the situation would impact mixed migration flows from the Horn of Africa to Yemen. Many migrants and refugees told DRC that they were aware about the civil unrest in Yemen as well as the risks involved. Despite the unstable situation, more than 43,000 refugees and migrants from the Horn of Africa arrived on Yemeni shores during the first six months of 2011. This represents twice as much in 2011 compared to the same period in 2010, when 21,592 people reached Yemen. According to new arrivals, more and more people would keep coming, especially in light of the worrying situation in the region, affected by internal conflicts and heavy drought.
Yemen – A relative Safe Haven?
From one conflict to another
Insecurity features as the main reason for people to flee their country of origin. In particular, Somali men and women believed that Yemen is a ‘safe haven’ compared to the dangerous violence that plagued many of the cities they have fled from. “I lived under bombs every single day. I felt the blows on my own skin. It’s terrible to live such a life, that’s why I had no choice but to escape” – Ayan, a young Somali woman, said. Halima nodded and continued, “Now that I am in Yemen I feel safer, but if the situation will affect my own well-being I have to consider the option to flee again”.
The fear of being forced into the conflict in Somalia was a main concern for young boys and girls who fled from the south-central regions. Fifteen-year-old Abbas explained how he and his friends had refused advances to become soldiers by armed groups. “I worried about my own life after I saw my friend being killed by the rebels. I felt they would target me too.” – Abbas said. With assertiveness he added, “I want a job. I am ready to work now”. Many girls and boys arrive to Yemen still shocked and traumatized by such experiences but are determined to continue their lives.
Transiting Through Yemen
“I am aware of the situation in Yemen, in fact I don’t plan to stay here. I imagine my future in Saudi Arabia.” Indeed a large portion of the people interviewed reported that they intend to continue the journey onwards to Saudi Arabia in search of better economic opportunities. Several Ethiopians stated that the drought brought a complete destruction of the cattle and lands, for many the main source of income. In addition, rising food prices made it increasingly difficult for families to secure food.
Various Somalis refugees told DRC this was their second or third time of transiting through Yemen to Saudi Arabia after facing deportation back to Somalia. Fartun was deported four months ago along with her child and sent back to south central. She described the difficult time she faced in Mogadishu, shocked by the severe laws imposed on women in some parts of the capital. “I was horrified with what I’ve seen and I feared punishment. Many young women are beaten and killed if they don’t abide”.
All those interviewed expressed relief to have made it to Yemen. Many aware of the instability that the country faced still felt both safe and welcome. “I feel safe, for now. But knowing the situation in Yemen is unpredictable and could become worse, I have no certainty.” This is a sentiment shared by Yemenis and new arrivals alike.
Produced by DRC Yemen
Photo by Soraya Monassar