This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Babar Baloch – to whom quoted text may be attributed – at today’s press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva
As the bitter conflict in Yemen grinds on and the humanitarian situation there continues to deteriorate, conditions facing the almost 280,000 refugees in-country are worsening and their needs and vulnerabilities are growing by the day.
Yemen has remained both a destination and a transit hub for refugees and migrants from the Horn of Africa and beyond, the overwhelming majority of refugees in Yemen, 91 per cent or some 255,000, are Somali refugees who have been coming to the country since the early nineties.
Though Yemen has traditionally been very generous in accepting those in need of international protection and is the only country in the Arabian Peninsula signatory to the Refugee Convention and the Protocol, the ongoing war has limited the capacities to provide adequate assistance and protection to refugees.
After more than two years of war, many refugees face increased hardship; struggling to cover basic needs, losing livelihoods and lacking access to basic and essential services.
With conflict in Yemen affecting civilians and resulting in deaths and casualties, some 30,600 Somalis have reportedly already returned to Somalia from Yemen since the beginning of the current war. An increasing number are now approaching UNHCR for assistance to support their return, citing safety and security concerns and limited access to services in Yemen.
UNHCR is now providing some support to those choosing to return on their own. In 2017, UNHCR is able to assist up to 10,000 Somali refugees who have made the choice to return, based on the information received at Return Help Desks on conditions in Somalia and the assistance package that is being offered both in Yemen and Somalia. UNHCR’s humanitarian operations in Yemen will continue to provide support to those refugees who remain in Yemen.
Most Somali refugees registered in Yemen originate from Banadir, Lower Shabelle, Bay, Middle Shabelle and Woqooyi Galbeed regions in Somalia. In Yemen, most reside in Aden, Sana’a and Lahj governorates, the latter of which is where Yemen’s only refugee camp, the Kharaz refugee camp, is located.
UNHCR assistance will include documentation, travel and transportation assistance and financial support in Yemen to facilitate the journey, as well as assistance upon arrival in Somalia. Special measures will be put in place for the travel of individuals with specific needs. Most refugees opt to return to Mogadishu, in the anticipation that assistance and services will be more accessible and available.
In Yemen, UNHCR has been providing protection and services for refugees and asylum seekers including by providing legal assistance, supporting education and livelihoods programs, and providing access to health and pyscho-social services, a cash programme for persons with specific needs amongst others.