Yemen’s forgotten refugees are so desperate they’re fleeing to Somalia

Yemen’s forgotten refugees are so desperate they’re fleeing to Somalia
Image: Reuters/Feisal Omar
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As of Aug. 2015, the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center (IDMC) estimates there are over 1,439,000 internally displaced people in Yemen—the result of conflict between Houthi rebels and coalition forces led by Saudi Arabia. Their plight has been largely overshadowed by the humanitarian emergency spilling out of Syria and ISIL-occupied regions of Iraq to the north, but the situation is no less dire.

In fact, these people are so desperate to escape they are fleeing for one of the least politically stable regions on Earth.

Yemen has long been a “transitory country,” as they are known, for refugees fleeing political unrest and economic hardship in the Horn of Africa—a region of East Africa consisting of Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Djibouti. According to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), prior to the sudden escalation of Houthi insurgency in Jan. 2015, Yemen was host to approximately 246,000 registered refugees, 95% of whom were ethnic Somalis.

As fighting has intensified on the streets of major migrant hubs like Sanaa and Aden, that trend has reversed itself. Ethnic Somalis who fled their war torn country in the 1990s are returning in droves, resettling primarily in the breakaway region of Somaliland, in cities like Berbera and Hargeisa. (These are cities that, in stark contrast to the Somali capital of Mogadishu, actually enjoy relative calm and stability.)

Yemenis are following in their wake.

“I didn’t even know where Hargeisa or Somaliland was,” a 25-year-old Yemeni refugee named Nadia, who arrived in Berbera in early May 2015, told Al Jazeera. The former civil servant from Sanaa fled with her mother and three sisters, paying a smuggler $100 a person for a 30-hour journey across the Gulf of Aden.

Somaliland’s government has recently come under fire from the international community after announcing the country would stop receiving refugee boats. Somaliland’s minister of the interior told reporters in late May that the country simply did not possess the infrastructure to deal with the influx of new arrivals, according to Middle East Eye.

Though Hargeisa eventually walked back the interior minister’s statements, it is of interest that such hefty demands can be made of a nation the majority of the world’s countries have yet to recognize. This renders international aid difficult to bequeath, as most countries and major international organizations do not maintain diplomatic channels with Somaliland; and even when aid is given, it is doubly difficult to track and ensure effective employment.

“It will be impossible for us to cope if people continue coming. We are at full capacity,” Somaliland’s immigration commissioner, Colonel Mohamed Ali Yusuf, told Al Jazeera in June 2015. “This is an international issue and, as such, the world needs to do more. We can’t deal with this on our own.”

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