Yemen: Refugees unite to enhance mobilization efforts
SANA'A, Jan. 12 - Various refugee committees in Yemen met during a two-day meeting that ended yesterday to create an overall forum to establish and enhance links.
The meeting was hosted by International Relief and Development (IRD) in Sana'a and included representatives from the Somali, Ethiopian, Eritrean and Iraqi refugee communities from Kharaz Refugee Camp, Aden, Taiz, Mukalla, Hodeida and Sana'a.
They were also joined by a member of Yemen's Palestinian community. Palestinians represent the largest refugee community and the longest ongoing refugee crisis in the world.
One woman and one man came from each country's refugee committee was present at the meeting to ensure a gender balance was implemented. Hosts said that this was particularly important given that women and children constitute the vast majority of refugees in Yemen.
The refugees also issued a joint statement at the end of the meeting yesterday.
"We, the Nationwide Refugee Committees of Yemen, would like to thank the Yemeni government for the protection afforded to us and thank the Yemeni people for their hospitality during our displacement. We welcome the government's initiative of issuing ID cards to Somali refugees and we look forward to the registration exercise being extended to non-Somali refugees and expanded across the country so that all refugees can benefit from this right," read the statement.
"As refugees we feel that we suffer a lot in Yemen but, at the same time, we recognize that Yemen is a poor country and that Yemeni people also struggle greatly. As such we are grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the economic and social development of Yemen."
Claire Bourgeois, the UN's refugee agency UNHCR representative in Yemen, said that it was the first time that refugees in Yemen joined forces. The UNHCR estimates that there are more than 170,000 refugees residing in Yemen.
"This event is particularly important as it represents the first time in the history of refugee affairs in Yemen that committees from all over the country have met under one umbrella to coordinate their activities in such a unified manner," said Bourgeois.
"While the committees are active in empowering their communities to take charge of their own affairs in their respective regions of the country, this event marks the beginning of the formation of a nationwide refugee identity rather than a Somali or Ethiopian or Eritrean or Iraqi identity."
The event's hosts said that refugees have been arriving in Yemen in large numbers for more than two decades.
A representative from the National Committee for Refugee Affairs on behalf of the Yemeni government also attended the meeting. The Yemeni government puts the refugee figure between 700,000 and one million. The vast majority of refugees are from Somalia but Yemen also hosts significant numbers of Iraqis, Ethiopians, Eritreans and Palestinians.
The country is situated on an ancient migration route and continues to face specific and unique challenges characterized by flows of mixed migration whereby many flee war and persecution in the Horn of Africa and others search for economic opportunities in the Gulf States.