UN refugee agency troubled by refugee protests in Yemen and Egypt

20 December 2005

The United Nations refugee agency today expressed concern over concurrent protests over living conditions, resettlement and other issues by Somali refugees in Yemen that turned violent leaving one person dead, and Sudanese refugees in Egypt where conditions at a sit-in are rapidly deteriorating.

“One of their main demands, resettlement to third countries, is only an option for a few vulnerable cases and at the discretion of the resettlement countries themselves – not UNHCR,” said Jennifer Pagonis, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

Ms. Pagonis said that UNHCR is deeply saddened by the death of a Somali man and injuries suffered by another five Somali demonstrators and four Yemeni policemen following an incident Saturday outside its office in the capital, Sana'a, where police dispersed an increasingly aggressive crowd that had been there since 13 November despite ongoing efforts to reach a solution.

“Since the start of the protest, UNHCR had sought to reach a peaceful solution through dialogue,” she said.

She said that the agency agreed to provide more assistance for vulnerable refugees, more Somali-speaking UNHCR staff, and additional health care. Registration and provision of ID cards is also being arranged.

UNHCR is also ensuring that the injured receive medical care and is assisting the family of the deceased, and remains in contact with the demonstrators to ensure previous agreements are kept, she said.

Somalis entering Yemen are automatically granted refugee status by the government and can live and work there indefinately, according to UNHCR. At the end of October, more than 68,000 Somali refugees had been registered with the agency there.

In Egypt, meanwhile, a group of some 1,500 Sudanese are continuing a protest in Mostafa Mahmoud Park in Cairo despite an agreement reached on Saturday between their leaders and UNHCR.

The Sudanese have been gathered in the park since 29 September to protest living conditions and to demand resettlement to third countries. Ms. Pagonis said UNHCR is extremely concerned about the deteriorating humanitarian and health situation of those still in the park. The sit-in has also become a public order issue and of growing concern to Egyptian authorities.

“UNHCR again appeals to the demonstrators to end their protest peacefully, as agreed, and to work with the office to implement the agreement reached on Saturday,” Ms Pagonis said.

The agency is presently assisting over 24,000 Sudanese refugees and asylum seekers in Cairo – or between one to two per cent of the millions of Sudanese believed to be in Egypt. The overwhelming majority have not applied for refugee status.

“Sudanese refugees and asylum seekers in Egypt continue to benefit from protection and assistance, despite UNHCR's serious budget constraints and competing needs in other operations,” Ms. Pagonis stressed.


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