By Asma al-Mohattwari
“A country—even several countries—could not solve the asylum and immigration in Yemen. It will require a large and international effort to reduce the risks and challenges associated with Yemen’s immigration problem, which otherwise could reach a disastrous end.” So warns Dr. Abu-Bakr Abdullah al-Qirbi, Foreign Affairs Minister.
Coinciding with the return of about 60 thousand Yemeni deportees from Saudi Arabia, a regional conference to address the challenges of mixed migration and refugee flows from the Horn of Africa was convened in Sana’a on November 11; the conference lasted for three days.
Refugees to Yemen face a host of woes in their journeys to the Arabian Peninsula. Their voyages usually begin to escape wars raging in their country or other unsustainable living conditions; some leave home searching for more lucrative employment. The extensive flow of refugees into Yemen, however, also causes difficulties here. Dr. al-Qirbi pointed that since 2009, migration flows from the Horn of Africa to Yemen have increased dramatically, with the number of refugees reaching 100 thousand people a year. Most of these refugees are classified as jobseekers.
Dr. al-Qirbi said that these flows are accompanied by humanitarian disasters as a result of primitive, unsafe means of transfer, which result in hundreds of drowning deaths each year. Even those who survive and succeed in reaching Yemen’s coasts are exposed to extortion, torture and severe human rights abuses, including murder by smuggling and human trafficking gangs.
“These gangs practice different ways to deceive refugees, through lying, deceit, fraud and robbery of already limited financial resources. Not only that, but refugees are also subjected to rape, banditry and murder without mercy,” reported Dr. al-Qirbi.
During the migration conference, organized by the Yemeni Government with the support of UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the Yemeni Foreign Affairs Minister acknowledged the efforts of UNHCR and IOM in providing assistance, protection and relief to refugees and migrants, emphasizing the need for greater burden sharing from the international community.
“The issue of migration and asylum has had a significant humanitarian impact on migrants and refugees.It has also created new security, economic and social burdens on the government and people of Yemen, who themselves are facing difficult economic challenges,” he explained.
Amin Awad, UNHCR Bureau Director for the Middle and North Africa (MENA) noted that in the period 2009-2012, more than 340,000 individuals crossed the Gulf of Aden and Red Sea to reach Yemen. New arrivals picked up in 2012, exceeding 107,000 arrivals.
So far in 2013, UNHCR has recorded the arrival of 62,000 immigrants to Yemen. “UNHCR is concerned particularly at the protection risks faced by asylum-seekers and refugees and the challenges that they face in their search for asylum and protection,” Awad said.
In an appeal for more regional cooperation and solidarity, Awad emphasized the importance of law enforcement taking action against smuggling and trafficking networks and strengthening refugee protection mechanisms in the region.
“We need greater efforts at raising awareness of the risks of irregular migration. This conference is an excellent example of regional collaboration to establish new responses through close cooperation between governments,” Awad said.
The conference brought together a wide range of participants from the Horn of Africa, Gulf States, donor countries and international organizations. It aimed at developing a workable Regional Plan of Action to manage mixed migration between the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula.
IOM Regional Director Pasquale Lupoli stressed the importance of cooperation and coordination at the local and regional level.
“Unilateral and isolated actions will not suffice, given the scale of the challenges, interests and numbers involved, if not backed up by parallel initiatives, such as the pursuance of traffickers, proactive border management, entry and exit monitoring, regular alternatives to irregular migration flows, and most importantly the collection and exchange of data among various countries concerned,” Lupoli said.
In the counclsion of the ministers’ meeting, ministers and heads of delegations from the Gulf Cooperation Council, the countries of the Horn of Africa and a number of agencies, regional and international organizations agreed to adopt a mechanism to implement the recommendations contained in a “Sana’a Declaration,” which includes the appointment of national focal points and a commitment to hold regular meetings to assess progress, determine sanctions, and find solutions to the region’s immigration challenges.