Magazine article Forced Migration Review

Somalia-Yemen Links: Refugees and Returnees

Magazine article Forced Migration Review

Somalia-Yemen Links: Refugees and Returnees

Article excerpt

Many of the hundreds of thousands of Somali refugees to whom Yemen offered prima facie refugee status over the decades are having to return as a result of the fighting in Yemen. Meanwhile, uprooted Yemeni populations have been crossing the Gulf of Aden in ever greater numbers in hope of finding refuge and protection in Somalia and other states in the Horn of Africa.

It is at reception centres that Yemeni refugees and Somali returnees meet their first challenge - if they survive the perilous sea journey. As part of the registration process, refugees are required to produce documents that prove either Yemeni nationality or, in the case of returning Somali refugees, refugee status in Yemen. These centres - such as in the port cities of Berbera and Bossasso - are set up under the auspices of the regional Somali governments of Somaliland and Puntland to register refugees and returning Somalis. They are intended only to provide arriving refugees with emergency assistance like food and shelter, and as such are not equipped to make provision for the long-term settlement of the refugees or the returnees.

Somali returnees

Somaliland, Puntland and the Federal Government in Mogadishu have all expressed willingness to take back their returning refugees. However, such rhetoric is problematic. The governments seem to advocate assisting returnees to go back to their regions of origin soon after their arrival, regardless of whether the factors triggering their displacement still exist there. Each of the administrations have thus far been reluctant to put in place overarching policies and frameworks that can ensure the safety of returnees by supporting their relocation to safer regions. Each of the political administrations is unable (and in some instances unwilling) to protect and integrate Somalis who are faced with the abrupt transition from being refugees in Yemen to being returnees.

Yemenis' strategies

In the context of Yemenis displaced to Somalia, UNHCR's encampment approach is being challenged by refugees. Many refugees have come to believe that registration and encampment will render them helpless in making important decisions like where to live and when to return home.

Because of the long history of contact, Yemeni refugees consider Somalia to be culturally familiar, despite the linguistic differences; this helps to instil confidence in their ability to navigate the challenges of urban life there. There is a trend of Yemeni refugees preferring to 'self-settle' in the capital cities of Hargeisa and Mogadishu, where help can be obtained from the existing populations of Yemenis. To date, the policy of the government of Somaliland allows Yemeni refugees to settle in urban areas with relative ease and many Yemeni refugees in both Hargeisa and Mogadishu have set up small businesses. …

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