Yemen has moved to curb the inflow of African economic migrants (mostly Ethiopians and Eritreans), who are allegedly becoming an increasing drain on the country’s resources.
Interior Minister Rashad al-Alimi on 18 October announced measures to prevent non-Somali migrants from illegally entering Yemen along its 2,500km coastline.
Reacting to the move, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said on 21 October that it had asked for clarification from the government.
Ahmed Hayel, head of the Interior Ministry's Information Centre, said the action was being taken as the number of Ethiopians and Eritreans had increased over the past few months.
"In September alone, about 150 non-Somali migrants arrived in Yemen and another 90 in the first half of October. The majority were Ethiopians and the rest Eritreans," he told IRIN on 22 October.
"We are up to our ears with Somalis. We do not want a new front of African migration to open," he said, adding that the authorities would not pursue non-Somalis already in the country as "the interior ministry’s announcement applies only to new arrivals".
Yemen grants automatic refugee status to Somalis but other African migrants should apply to the UNHCR for such status. Yemen has signed the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its related 1967 Protocol.
Concern over detained migrants
The UNHCR said on 21 October it was concerned about dozens of Ethiopians recently detained by the authorities.
“We urge that it [the Yemeni government] maintain its international commitments under the 1951 Convention, including access to asylum procedures for all of those in need of international protection," UNHCR spokesperson Ron Redmond said.
|We are up to our ears with Somalis. We do not want a new front of African migration to open.|
Redmond said a total of 87 Ethiopians, including 10 women and two children, had been detained by the Yemeni authorities when they sought asylum over the past two weeks.
"The UNHCR has not had access to them, but we have received government assurances of access. Yesterday, UNHCR understands that some 25 Ethiopians, including six women, were removed by the authorities from a vehicle transporting new arrivals to the UNHCR reception centre of Ahwar," he said.
The Interior Ministry’s Hayel said the authorities had detained the Ethiopians as they had entered the country illegally and would be deported, adding that all newly arriving Ethiopians and Eritreans would be sent to the Immigration Authority in Sanaa city prior to deportation.
On 21 October, the Interior Ministry said 49 Ethiopians were arrested by security forces on the Dhubab coast (Red Sea) and sent to the Central Prison in Taiz Governorate.
According to the UNHCR, 3,737 Africans arrived in Yemen and another 95 died or went missing from 1-17 October alone. So far this year, a total of 37,333 Africans have arrived in Yemen on smugglers’ boats. In 2007, the total number of arrivals was nearly 23,000; over 900 died in their bid to reach Yemen.