Yemen: large-scale refugee registration to start shortly by UN agency

22 November 2005

To better protect and assist them, the Government of Yemen and the United Nations refugee agency are about to begin a large-scale operation to register thousands of refugees in Yemen, most of whom have crossed the Gulf of Aden to flee the long-term unrest in Somalia, the agency announced today.

Beginning on Sunday, six newly-created centres around the country will begin registering refugees with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and Government authorities, which the agency said have been highly cooperative.

"UNHCR wishes to highlight the exemplary cooperation displayed by the Yemeni authorities in dealing with refugees," Jennifer Pagonis, a spokesperson for the agency said in Geneva.

"Yemen is one of the few countries in the region to have signed the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, and has been very generous in receiving refugees," she added.

Registration is due to start next week in the capital Sana'a before moving on to other parts of the country. Each of the six centres will then become a permanent registration centre, UNHCR said.

Thousands of Somalis cross the gulf every year, many of them on unsafe vessels run by smuggling rings. Hundreds perish in the attempt, prompting High Commissioner António Guterres earlier this year to call for international action to address the root causes of the problem.

The Yemeni authorities automatically grant refugee status to Somali citizens arriving in Yemen, Ms. Pagonis said. At the end of last month, there were some 79,000 refugees registered with UNHCR in Yemen, more than 68,000 of them from Somalia. Most Somalis live in urban areas, with some 7,500 staying at Kharaz camp, in the south of the country.

UNHCR staff in Sana'a also reported that dozens of Somali refugees have been staging protests calling for resettlement to a third country outside their office in the Yemeni capital since last week.

"We are engaged in a dialogue with these refugees in order to clarify some of the principles of resettlement, a procedure which consists in finding a host country for refugees other than the first country of asylum, in this case Yemen," Ms. Pagonis said.