Yemen + 1 more

Yemen: INTERSOS assessment report to Ahwar and Mayfa reception centers - 11-14 Oct 2008

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Intersos is present in Yemen with a project funded by UNHCR, in support of the refugees in Kharaz camp (Lahj Governorate) and Basateen urban area (Aden Governorate).

This project is part of a larger UNHCR strategy to improve government and community protection capacities in Yemen and to develop a self-reliance strategy including skills/vocational training activities and provision of job to assist refugees in attaining self-reliance. Psychosocial counseling activities and risk assessment exercise are also part of the program.

As a consequence of the 1991 civil war in Somalia, Yemen became a safe country of asylum for the Somali refugee population. The earliest groups started to leave Somalia at the outbreak of the civil war but, due to steady deterioration of the situation in their country, the rates of arrivals continued to increase until today as a permanent pattern.

The recent upsurge in people smuggling across the Gulf of Aden from war-torn Somalia brought so far, according to UNHCR statistics, the new arrivals from January till the beginning of November 2008 to 41,747 people that arrived in Yemen after making the perilous voyage aboard smugglers' boats. They include 27,752 Somalis and 13,995 Ethiopians. More than 228 people have died and at least 262 remain missing. Somalis arriving in Yemen are granted refugee status from the first instance (recognition on prima facie basis) by the government of Yemen. They constitute 50% of the total new arrivals who will be properly registered and documented to be eligible for UNHCR protection and assistance package.

Generally speaking, the motivation for leaving the countries of origin are mixed: the majority of the new arrivals are stating that the main reason for departure is the indiscriminate violence vis-à-vis the young male, forced to recruit themselves to fight along with the government forces. UNHCR is, indeed, reporting that, since the migration season started again in September 2008, after the lull from June to August 2008 due to the monsoon season, the majority of new arrivals, around the 70%, are young single male from 17 till 35 years old. The poverty and the lack of work opportunities are mentioned as other reasons for leaving. Saudi Arabia represents the final destination for most of the newcomers.

The average number of children/ boat is around 10, but very few are unaccompanied children. Normally children are traveling with parents or relatives. The elderly are the 2% of the new comers, only one or two per boat.

INTERSOS, between the 11th October and the 14th October 2008, carried out a protection rapid assessment in the Reception Centers of Ahwar and Mayfa, the entry point of al- Irqa and the village of Bir Ali, along the Gulf of Aden coast.

The objective of the assessment was to identify the protection gaps in early delivering of assistance to the new arrivals in the following phases: their landing to the Yemeni coast, the first assistance on the beach, the identification of the most vulnerable and at risk among the new arrivals, as well as the management of the reception centers.

Although this was intended to be a protection related assessment, discussions on self reliance, wat/san, health, access to basic services and humanitarian assistance turned up unavoidable.

The methodology applied in carrying out the assessment took into account, as a priority, information meetings with the institutions operating in the area, namely: UNHCR staff, the local authorities, and the different IPs operating on the ground, such as the local ngo Society for Humanitarian Solidarity (SHS) which is responsible for the transportation of the new arrivals from the landing points to the reception centers and, eventually, to Kharaz camp, as well as the management of the reception centers, and the Danish Refugee Council, in charge of the registration process. Focus Group Discussions with new arrivals, and visits to the entry points were also resorted to as part of the strategy.

As reported in other assessments, lack of early psychosocial guidance and support has been identified, inter alia, as a major weakness. The following short-comings have also been felt: a poor screening of the most vulnerable among the refugees, the need to setting up an effective identification system of new arrivals with special needs, including women victims of SGBV, the lack of an awareness program meant to advise new arrivals on their rights and obligations in Yemen as well as on the services provided in Kharaz camp and Basateen urban area, the need of an information program helping them in tracking their relatives or close friends in the above mentioned locations.

A nationwide awareness campaign is also needed to address the host community on the rights of refugees and asylum seekers in order to reduce the negative public perception towards new arrivals.

Strong coordination mechanism among the actors, including security forces and host community is not addressed: the referral system needs to be strengthen in order to better monitor the refugees with special needs from the reception centers to farther inland.

The majority of the new arrivals will anyhow remain without protection: the movements and the special vulnerability of those who decide not to be transported to the RCs and then to Kharaz will never be monitored neither reported and followed up by the international community: they can all to be considered invisible refugees.

For more details see the Full Report