Cablegate: Sit-in by Ethiopian Refugees at Unhcr Sana'a

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.





E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (SBU) Summary. A group of former refugees composed of
Mengistu-era Ethopian naval officers have maintained a 24/7
sit-in at Sanaa's UNHCR office for eight days demanding
consideration for resettlement in the US or another third
country. The sit-in began on Tuesday, February 10, after a
UNHCR translator informed someone outside UNHCR's offices of
the expected late-April DHS visit to Yemen to take
applications for resettlement. UNHCR is located adjacent to
the residence of the DCM, creating security concerns. End

2. (UN) With the fall of the Mengistu government in 1991 a
group of 700 Ethiopian naval officers fled to Yemen with 14
Ethiopian naval vessels. While approximately 150 of the
officers eventually returned to Ethiopia the rest remain in
Yemen. To date the group has not been integrated into Yemeni
society nor accorded the status of legitimate refugees. On
February 10 they began a 24/7 sit-in in front of the UNHCR to
draw attention to their plight. According to UNHCR, the group
is neither completely homogeneous nor unified. Some members
wish to remain in Yemen and are seeking their legal rights
under the 1951 Geneva Convention on the Status of Refugees,
which Yemen signed but never implemented domestically. This
faction is reportedly seeking work permits and in some cases
nationality in Yemen. The majority of the group seeks
resettlement in a third country, namely the US or Canada, and
is opposed to being registered in Yemen because they believe
that will end their chances for third country resettlement.

3. (SBU) On February 15, 2004, representatives of the
refugees met with UNHCR for over 3 hours, during which the
refugees expressed their demands and UNHCR explained the
options available to them. Subsequent to the February 15th
meeting, UNHCR met with the ROYG Ministry of Interior and the
Ministry of Foreign Affairs to push for host government
compliance with its Convention obligations as well as to
protest the lack of security surrounding the sit-in.
According to Saad Al-Attar, the UNHCR representative managing
the situation, someone in the host government admitted in
front of UNHCR staff members that the ROYG gave the
demonstrators a tacit green light to commence and continue,
despite the fact that no permit to protest was issued.
Al-Attar stated that in the past when even a few
demonstrators have appeared at UNHCR, government authorities
have cleared them away without delay. In his view, the fact
that this sit-in has lasted over a week and initially swelled
to over one hundred people is evidence of ROYG involvement.

4. Comment. Most of the initial group have reportedly
returned to work, but a residual group of several dozen
remains. The sit-in remained at all times peaceful. Post
has informed the DHS regional refugee coordiantor in Cairo,
and will continue to monitor the situation. At this time
there does not appear to be any reason to postpone or cancel
the planned DHS visit to Yemen in late April.

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