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Record Number of Africans Flee to Yemen

May 18, 2012

A record number of African refugees and migrants have arrived in Yemen this year. Most are from Ethiopia. U.N. refugee agency spokesman Andrej Mahecic says more people are crossing the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden to get to Yemen.

“There are now more than 43,000 people – migrants and refugees – from the Horn of Africa who have reached Yemen during the first four months of this year. We are looking at the record figures compared to the same period last year or any other year before,” he said.

For the same period last year, 13,000 fewer people made the journey.

“Last year, we have about 103,000 people arriving from the Horn of Africa into Yemen and that was the record year. Now should this trend of a high number of arrivals continue, this year, 2012, could sadly become another record year,” he said.

Many more Ethiopians

There was a time when most of the refugees and migrants reaching Yemen were Somalis. That began to change in 2009 and today every 3 out of 4 arrivals are Ethiopians. Unlike Somalis, who are fleeing conflict and a humanitarian crisis, Ethiopians are said to be leaving their country for economic reasons. Once they arrive in Yemen, they hope to reach other Gulf States to find work.

However, while Somalis are automatically recognized as refugees, Ethiopians are not. As a result, they face arrest, deportation or worse.

Life and death

The UNHCR spokesman said Somalis reach Yemen often by boarding boats in northern Somalia, while Ethiopians make their way through Djibouti to cross the Red Sea. The journey can take days for Somalis, but just a few hours for Ethiopians. Nevertheless, Mahecic says both groups are in life or death situations.

“Every step of the journey they face, first of all, shocking levels of abuse and violence by the smugglers, by the traffickers. We are talking ultimately about the illegal migration. They face also the arbitrary arrests and the possible detention. The problems at the borders, the forced deportation. They lack access to shelter, water and food and medical assistance along the way,” said Mahecic.

Also, within Yemen itself 470,000 people have been displaced by both tribal clashes and fighting between government forces and militants. The UNHCR is appealing for $60 million for humanitarian efforts in Yemen for both refugees and the displaced.

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