After her brother, two sisters and a niece were killed in a rocket blast, Um Ayham fled her home country of Syria. With her husband and daughter she made it across the border to Lebanon—passing through internal Syrian checkpoints—and then flew to Yemen. Now, along with around 1,000 other refugees, Um Ayham lives in Sana’a.
Syria’s civil war, which has been raging for the past two year, has claimed more than 60,000 lives and displaced nearly 1 million people.
“The Yemeni government welcomes Syrian refugees with open arms,” Abu Jihad, a representative of the Syrian Community in Yemen, said.
In 2012, the Yemeni Ministry of Foreign Affairs declared its willingness to receive refugees fleeing the ongoing civil war. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Yemen grants all Syrians asylum, allowing them access to some public services including healthcare.
The majority of Syrian refugees have fled to countries like Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan, but there are more job opportunities in Yemen than in other countries, Abu Jihad said.
Many of those Syrian refugees who now reside in Yemen already have family connections here.
Lawaei Jaradat, a Syrian refugee, came to Yemen with his family in the middle of the last year.
“I visited Yemen before the war in Syria. And I know Yemenis are kind. Also, I heard about the suffering of the refugees in the [other] countries they fled to. My family and I decided to come to Yemen,” Jaradat said.
Despite a much higher estimated population, only 300 of the Syrian refugees in Yemen have enrolled with the UNHCR.
Jamal Al-Ja’adi, assistant coordinator of legal protection for the UNHCR speculated that because many refugees live with extended family, they feel secure here, and that this is why they remain unregistered.
The UNHCR projects the Syrian refugees’ influx will likely double or triple by the end of 2013 as long as the conflict in Syria continues.
The UNHCR reported that over 400,000 Syrians fled their country since the beginning of 2013. In January an estimated 5,000 refugees fled daily, increasing to 8,000 daily in February.
The tragic details of the displaced Syrian families are similar. They have all fled violence; many recount losing loved ones in the ongoing conflict.
“When my brother was killed, I did not see him or his burial,” refugee Um Ayham said. “I have a sister in Al-Ristn district, but I don’t know if she is still alive.”
So far, Um Ayham has declined to register with the UNHCR. She doesn’t see any reason to do so. Life is fine with her family, she says. She also believes that her stay here is temporary. She’ll be returning home to Syria, she says, only she doesn’t know when.
“My wish is for the war to end as soon as possible and [for us to] return to our beloved nation,” she said. “Until then, my sons will work in our second home, Yemen.”