SANA’A, May 8 — The Somali ambassador to Sana’a, Mukhtar Mohammed Hassan, told the Yemen Times that injecting Somali refugees into Yemen’s current political crisis would be both a dangerous act of escalation and a violation of the refugees’ basic rights.
Some opposition sources have recently claimed that Somali refugees are being recruited by the government to fight as mercenaries against the growing pro-democracy movement that is demanding the resignation of President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
“These are irresponsible allegations,” said Ambassador Hassan. “These allegations have been concocted by Islah party members – especially by MP Insaf Maio – and we don’t know why. As far as we’re concerned, it’s just another attempt at incrimination between the opposition and the government.”
The ambassador said that he called for an investigation after these allegations had been made, but that they could not be proven true.
The Yemen Times also recently spoke with Maio. He said that he has no factual evidence regarding Somali refugees’ mobilization as mercenaries, but that there have been some eyewitness accounts of government officials encouraging Somali “thugs”.
When asked what information he had to conclude that these alleged officials were in fact encouraging thugs, Maio was unable to respond.
“You should go and investigate it yourself,” he said. “I have told you all I know.”
Indeed, Maio was even unable to prove that the alleged thugs were Somali.
A presidential committee was formed with the cooperation of the Red Cross so as to investigate Maio’s claims.
Ambassador Hassan also insisted that the Somali refugees who have come to Yemen are seeking security that they don’t have in their own country. If refugees were interested in participating in “terrorist movements”, Ambassador Hassan said that, “There are many parties in Somalia that are willing to recruit them, so why would they come to another country to seek recruitment?”
Mohammed Adam, chairman of the Somali refugee community in Sana’a, told the Yemen Times that a committee has been formed to raise awareness regarding the dangers associated with refugees participating in Yemen’s political affairs. He said that information is being broadcast via two London-based Somali television channels, in the hopes that the larger Somali diaspora will encourage its brothers and sisters in Yemen to refuse taking a position on Yemen’s unrest and to avoid being near any of the country’s sit-ins.
“We are guests in this country,” said Adam. “We have to respect Yemeni affairs and not interfere in any way. We have to remain neutral.”
Adam also said that the Somali refugees who do happen to live near the capital’s various protest centers have not faced any problems whatsoever.
Adam accused the opposition’s various media outlets of lying about the Somali refugee community so as to sell more newspapers.
In addition, as Yemen continues to weather its prolonged gas shortage, Adam confirmed that Somali refugees are facing just as much trouble as Yemenis themselves.
“It Yemenis buy gas as expensively as we do, and if Yemenis cannot find gas just as we cannot find gas, then it’s the same with all of us. There is no specific trouble that refugees in Yemen face alone. Their suffering is the same as everybody else’s, so we can’t complain,” said Adam.
Mohammed Dorai’e, chairman of the Somali refugee community in Aden, said that in the Basateen Camp alone, there are over 400,000 refugees. Not one of them has been reported as having participated in either the pro-government or the pro-democracy protests.
“The only thing that has been reported,” said Dorai’e, “is that some armed people took over the Al-Mzare’e district – which is close to our camp – and some refugees were shot in the leg. We never managed to find out who shot them.”
He also said that the economic crisis has affected Somali refugees just as much as it has affected Yemenis.
“Just as Yemenis have lost their jobs, Somali maids and car washers have faced problems. There is no freedom of movement [to and from their jobs],” explained Dorai’e.
As for the gas shortage, Dorai’e insisted that Somali refugees have suffered even more than the average Yemeni, as they are living on far lower incomes.
“If we can’t find gas, we use firewood,” he said. “Although the local council officer has supplied us with enough gas to meet the needs of about 2,000 refugees.”
Due to Yemen’s political upheaval, the activities of the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) have been impacted. Counseling, monitoring and the processing of asylum claims in Aden all remain difficult due to ongoing restrictions in movement.
Moreover, despite record numbers of incoming refugees (estimated at around 22,000 in March 2011 alone), transporting new arrivals to and from reception centers remains a significant challenge.
In the north, UN agencies are lobbying for increased access and are discussing the modalities of food distribution, assistance and the protection of internally displaced persons.
Due to a complete lack of access to Mandaba at the northern tip of Sa’ada governorate, UNHCR officials in Riyadh were recently obliged to conduct a visit via Saudi Arabia, so as to assess and assist some 4,000 displaced Yemenis.