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Cablegate: Embassy Sanaa

VZCZCXYZ0000
PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHYN #0318/01 0561234
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 251234Z FEB 08
FM AMEMBASSY SANAA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 9025
RUEHEG/AMEMBASSY CAIRO 0856
RHRMDAW/NAVCENTMETOCCEN BAHRAIN
INFO RUEHDS/AMEMBASSY ADDIS ABABA 0230
RUEHNR/AMEMBASSY NAIROBI 0400
RUEHAE/AMEMBASSY ASMARA 0657
RUEHGB/AMEMBASSY BAGHDAD 0064
RUEHJM/AMCONSUL JERUSALEM 0165

UNCLAS SANAA 000318

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

NOFORN

SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT FOR NEA/ARP AND PRM
CAIRO FOR REFCOORD MARY DOETSCH
NAVCENT FOR VADM KEVIN COSGRIFF

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREF PHUM PREL PGOV YM
SUBJ: OVERVIEW OF REFUGEES IN YEMEN: A MIXED BAG OF MISERY

REF: 07 SANAA 2300

1. (SBU/NF) SUMMARY: According to the United Nations High
Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), there were 117,363 recognized
refugees in Yemen at the end of December 2007. The number of
unregistered migrants may equal or exceed this. While their national
origin largely determines their experiences, the ROYG's lack of
capacity and concern are a problem for all. Since the influx is
likely to continue, it may be time for outside assistance to focus
on economic integration rather than simply relief. END SUMMARY.

2. (SBU/NF) The vast majority (110,616) of the 117,363 recognized
refugees in Yemen are Somalis. They are followed by Iraqis (3,747),
Ethiopians (1,988), Palestinians (440), Eritreans (415), and around
157 others, including Sudanese, Syrians, Vietnamese and other
Africans and Arabs. While refugees are spread throughout Yemen's
urban centers, large numbers of Somalis reside in the Kharaz refugee
camp west of Aden or in Basateen, a majority-Somali suburb of Aden
city. There is also a small but growing second generation of Somali
refugees born in Kharaz camp. Many refugees intend to use Yemen as a
jumping-off point for destinations in the Gulf or Europe. Although
no statistics are available, Marcus Dolder, the Representative in
Yemen of the International Committee for the Red Cross/Red Crescent,
has estimated that as many as half of all arrivals in Yemen move on
via land routes to Saudi Arabia.

3. (SBU/NF) The high percentage of recognized Somali refugees
derives from the ROYG's policy of granting automatic refugee status
to all Somalis who reach Yemen. While the origins of this policy
remain murky, sources in UNHCR and in the Yemeni parliament have
said that it is intended to reciprocate past Somali political
support for President Saleh and the ROYG. The refugee figures above
do not include many thousands of migrants who have not been granted
refugee status by the ROYG or UNHCR, the majority of whom are
Ethiopian. Ethiopian migrants, like Somalis, face enormous risks in
the dangerous sea crossing to Yemen (see reftel). Although NGO
figures for shore arrivals along Yemen's Gulf of Aden coast show a
roughly 40/60 split between Ethiopians and Somalis, most Ethiopian
migrants scatter to the cities immediately rather than attempt to
claim asylum. The ROYG generally views Ethiopian arrivals as illegal
economic migrants. According to Saado Quol, head of UNHCR's Aden
office, the ROYG has moved since early 2006 from a strategy of
periodic urban roundups of Ethiopian migrants to capturing
Ethiopians as they arrive on Yemen's shores. After a period of
detention, most are deported to Ethiopia in cooperation, according
to Quol, with the Ethiopian Embassy in Sanaa.

4. (SBU/NF) The ROYG is generally more sympathetic towards Iraqi and
Palestinian asylum seekers and does not obstruct their applications
for refugee status with UNHCR. Their situation is further helped by
their small numbers, good job prospects resulting from their
relatively high level of education, and their ability to assimilate
into Yemeni society. Iraqi Christians, however, sometimes face
low-level social discrimination and, according to UNHCR Protection
Officer Samer Haddadin, the situation of Iraqi Mandaeans is tenuous.
A sect that is neither Christian nor Muslim, the Mandaeans face
strong social pressure to convert to Islam, and are a UNHCR priority
for resettlement in the United States or Europe.

5. (SBU/NF) Some problems are shared by all refugees in Yemen
regardless of national origin. Although Yemen is a signatory to both
the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and the 1967
Protocol, the ROYG's obligations have not yet been enshrined in
national law. Although the ROYG set up the National Committee for
Refugee Affairs (NACRA) in 2000 to deal with refugee issues, the
committee is reactive and essentially a forum to give the Interior
and Foreign Affairs ministries a veto on refugee issues, which are
primarily the responsibility of the Ministry of Human Rights.
Although the ROYG claimed that a draft refugee law had been
submitted to parliament in 2004, it was never approved, and Adel
Jasmin, the UNHCR Representative in Yemen, says he now believes the
draft never actually existed. Shaykh Nabil Basha, a ruling party
parliamentarian on the human rights committee, said in a January
meeting that no powerful ministries have given their backing to
refugee legislation. A new draft refugee law, announced in February
2008 by the Ministry of Human Rights, has yet to be seen by UNHCR
(septel). Without enforced refugee legislation, even recognized
refugees have no legal recourse when they are denied their rights
under the 1951 Convention. Currently, for example, the ROYG refuses
to approve travel documents for refugees, despite UNHCR offers of
assistance. Additionally, many non-Somali asylum seekers awaiting
UNHCR's refugee status determination are denied the right to work or
attend public schools.

6. (SBU/NF) Several refugees have also complained of corruption
among Yemeni UNHCR employees. Since it is local staff who schedule
refugee status determination interviews, arrange for work and
residence permits, and control access to international staff, asylum
seekers have alleged that cases have been delayed by a year or more
until bribes are paid.

7. (SBU/NF) COMMENT: As instability in the Horn of Africa region
continues, the flow of refugees to Yemen is unlikely to diminish.
UNHCR's strategy to deal with the crisis is based on three "durable
solutions:" voluntary repatriation, integration in the country of
first refuge, and resettlement in a third country. Since only a few
hundred refugees in Yemen are either repatriated or resettled each
year, integration is the default option for the vast majority. Until
now, donor and NGO assistance has mainly focused on immediate
humanitarian concerns, such as improving living conditions in Kharaz
camp. However, the USG should now consider focusing funding for
UNHCR and implementing NGOs toward projects targeting the
integration of refugees into the Yemeni economy. These could include
vocational training, legal aid programs, and basic education
support. The USG should also coordinate with UNHCR to pressure the
ROYG to complete and enforce legislation that guarantees the rights
of refugees as outlined in the 1951 Convention. The economic
opportunities created by more successful integration would be the
most effective long-term means of alleviating the humanitarian
crisis faced by refugees in the camps and urban areas. END COMMENT.

SECHE

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