Ethiopians stage protest at refugee camp
SANA’A, Aug. 1 — Hundreds of Ethiopians living in Kharaz refugee camp peacefully demonstrated in front of the Administration and Accommodation compound on Monday, demanding repatriation back to Ethiopia, according to the U.N. Refugee Agency, UNHCR. Demonstrators blocked the entrance and exit to the compound, temporarily blocking U.N. staff and their partners from entering or leaving the camp.
Deteriorating economic conditions and a worsening food crisis has meant increased hostility towards African refugees, asylum seekers and migrants in Yemen. Yemeni security forces forcibly removed 300 Ethiopians from Dhamar Governorate to Kharaz refugee camp in Lahij Governorate five weeks ago. Protests first broke out three weeks ago when the recently arrived Ethiopian camp residents were informed after being screened that they were not to be granted refugee status by UNHCR.
“Following screening of the migrants, UNHCR determined that they were not persons of concern to UNHCR. The office has been working with the Government, the Ethiopian Embassy and IOM to resolve the situation. Meanwhile, UNHCR has been providing food and temporary shelter,” UNHCR External Relations Officer, Teddy Leposky, said.
Subla Chalchisa, a 23-year-old Oromo-Ethiopian refugee arrived in Sana’a from Kharaz camp in two weeks ago.
“I came from Kharaz, I came to see my sick sister,” Chalchisa said. “They didn’t give us anything in Kharaz, they should be on our side, but they are not. Conditions are very bad there, a child died shortly before I left.”
Meanwhile in the capital, refugees continue to sleep on Sana’a’s streets after an allegedly violent removal from prison. Yemeni security forces threw tear gas canisters into cells and beat refugees with steel bars before throwing them into vans to be dispersed around the city, according to the refugees. The refugees were imprisoned after an 11-month demonstration outside UNHCR’s Sana’a office.
The former prisoners, mostly Ethiopian and Eritrean refugees, are demanding Yemeni citizenship, repatriation outside of Yemen, or repatriation back to Ethiopia, where many fear persecution from the Ethiopian government. Refugees outside the Human Rights Ministry told the Yemen Times that they fear what kind of future awaits them in Ethiopia if they are repatriated, but that that option is preferable to the status quo. Whilst widespread, this conviction is not shared by all; Kirubel Lemma, former refugee and well-known member of the Ethiopian community, for example, does not condemn the Ethiopian government.
Around the world, refugees struggle to survive after fleeing their homes for fear of persecution, famine or violence. Cash-strapped governments like Yemen’s, a country where nearly half its population is food insecure, struggle to meet the needs of its refugee community. Last year’s U.N. World Refugee Day report shows that developing nations bear a greater burden, hosting 80 percent of refugees. The U.N. urged wealthier nations to share this burden, given their capacity to host and absorb refugees.