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Yemen Holds Landmark Conference on Migration and Asylum

National Yemen

Smuggled Africans migrants on Yemen coasts

By National Yemen

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the UN Refugee Agency (UNCHR), in collaboration with the Yemeni government, are holding Yemen’s largest conference on issues pertaining to migration and asylum seeking today at the Movenpick Hotel.  The conference will last three days and cover a wide range of topics relevant to migrants and refugees in Yemen and the Gulf. Participants will include governments from the Horn of Africa, Gulf States, donor countries, NGOs, and institutions such as the Regional Mixed Migration Secretariat.

The conference aims to establish a regional plan to help manage mixed migration between the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. This plan in turn will seek to save lives of travelers, ensure better protections for asylum seekers and refugees and ease the suffering of migrants and the communities that host them. Methods of strengthening law enforcement against smuggling and trafficking networks will be discussed, as will means of increasing funding for assisted-voluntary-return programs for stranded migrants. The plan proposed at the conference will also attempt to expand available options for legal migration and raise awareness of the dangers of irregular migration.

The Conference will be organized in two phases, including a meeting of experts during the first two days and a ministerial meeting on the third day.

Refugee Agency officials have said that the conference is of “utmost political importance to the Yemeni government,” as Yemen is a pivotal migration transit hub and a generous host to refugees from numerous countries. Promoting a fairer arrangement of burden sharing will enhance Yemen’s ability to protect those refugees and migrants it does receive as well as improve Yemen’s ability to “assert its authority at a time of acute crises and great challenges.”

A recent briefing to the NGO community in Yemen was recently organized by the Yemeni government, UNCHCR and IOM. This briefing session stressed a condensed set of conference objectives, which were as follows: 1)Strengthening law enforcement against smuggling and trafficking networks in both sending and transit countries; 2) Enhancing public sensitization efforts to raise awareness of the risks and possible alternatives to undocumented migration in sending countries; 3) Increased and predictable funding to the IOM AVR programme to return migrants stranded in Yemen; and 4) Expanded legal migration options from Horn of Africa countries to GCC countries in the sectors of farming and cattle rearing.

Sana’a’s MUNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards recently commented on sea arrivals to Yemen in 2013. His comments were delivered at a press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva on Friday, 8 November 2013.

According to Edwards, UNHCR has recorded more than 62,000 sea arrivals so far this year (Jan 1 to Oct 31).

Yemen has seen six successive years of high arrivals by sea, including a record high of 107,532 persons in 2012. While this year’s numbers have been lower than last year’s month on month (62,194 from January through October compared to 88,533 for the same period last year), he Gulf of Aden remains one of the world’s most traveled sea routes for mixed migration.

In total, since 2006 when UNHCR began collecting data, more than half-a-million asylum seekers, refugees and migrants have traveled by sea to Yemen. Most are Ethiopians, (51,687 in 2013), most of whom leave their homes seeking better economic situations and higher paying jobs in the Gulf States and beyond. Somalis arriving in Yemen are automatically considered refugees by Yemeni authorities. For arrivals from other countries, UNHCR helps to determine their refugee status.

The crossing from the Horn of Africa to Yemen is one of several deadly sea routes worldwide that UNHCR watches closely. Hundreds of people, including Syrian refugees, have died in recent months crossing the Mediterranean to Europe. In Southeast Asia, just last weekend, dozens of people were reported missing after their boat capsized off the coast of Myanmar in the Bay of Bengal.

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