Plight of Somali Refugees in the Arabian Peninsula
By Mohamed O. Eyow
Unfortunate Somalis destined from bad to worse, it’s over two decades now when an armed violence erupted in the home country. The world gets bewildered to mend the unabated political morass. Entire multiple bids by regional and international actors to defuse the prevalent hybrid quandary are yet to deliver. The most recent endeavor from the latest Djibouti upshot appears fragile and ineffective. The incumbent UN-supported government in Mogadishu seems battered to grave by creeping insurgents.
With this desolate scenario, and the lack of an eminent solution in sight again coerced million more Somalis to flee dispersedly to wherever karma can take to, searching safer sanctuary away from scary, war-ravaged Mogadishu. According to UN refugees Agency’s estimate 1.4 million Somalis have been displaced internally and more than half million are now refugees in neighboring and other countries.
Kenya hosted the largest number of displaced refugees. Though rights groups blasted Kenyan security personnel for committing abuses and human rights violations against refugees crossing the border into Kenya, however UNHCR head; Antonio Guterrs praised Kenyans for their humane generosity they showed to African refugees in their country. Kenya has one of world’s oldest, largest and most congested refugee camps. A ratio of 21000 crossed over the border during early months of this year alone.
Thousands of refugees who live in urban areas have so far integrated into Kenyan public, building their future and making business in metropolis vicinities. They are refugees but today they own retail chain outlets, real estate companies, business holdings, and investing in various commercial industries, which is, in turn, contributing hundreds of millions of dollars into country’s economy.
Somali Refugee entrepreneurs also use Mombasa port as a transit hub for goods heading to Southern Sudan, Uganda, and of course southern Somalia while monsoon winds hampering Indian Ocean commercial routes. Kenya also represents a centerpiece for massive aid coordination activities to Somalia.
With the help of Kenyan government, huge numbers of Somali refugees had been flown for resettlement to Europe, North America and Australia which helped UN refugee Agency evade further shrinking resource. The agency faced growing difficult to cope with unusual influx of refugees from Somalia.
As UN Deputy High commissioner Alexander Aleinikoff reported to press at UN this year (2010) alone 200,000 Somalis were driven from their homes by violence in Mogadishu who became stuck in the country. This compelled the Agency to make appeals of supplementary donations totaling 60 million US dollar which makes the overall budget of the Agency for 2010 up to 425 million US Dollar for Somalia and all Somali refugees in neighboring countries.
For Arabian Peninsula, Yemen rescued thousands of Somali boat people whose wooden boats wrecked or capsized during adventurous voyage to Yemeni coasts, those who were washed ashore alive, were given refugee status in camps administered by UNHCR, However most of Somali refugees in Yemen are now living in urban places, seeking for jobs and better life. Some continued their journey to reach to the Paradise of oil-rich Saudi Arabia.
Yemen is truly commendable for its humane and generous reception for Somali asylum seekers. It has conferred unrestricted liberty of movement tantamount to the one enjoyed by ordinary Yemeni citizens.
However, unfortunately, Yemen is largely one of poorest countries in the world. Its strained economy depends on scant and rapidly depleting petroleum resource, which represents 80% of the revenue source that the government relies on.
The country also faces challenges of fastest population growth in the world, this, along with huge domestic rivalry in the north and secessionist violent campaigns from the south made the country lag behind in development. These factors combine with unbridled corruption and notorious social behavior of chewing stimulant narcotics called “khat”. Yemen had been put under the spotlight of international concern.
With these alarming conditions, Somali refugees there are living in grievous situation; they became derelict and unobserved melting in an ocean of despair among hosts who too suffer abject poverty. Somali refugees used to beg on streets, little number of them get chances for domestic works like house maids or carwash jobs but majority of them lay on streets as a disposal waste.
With this looming crisis in Yemen, United Nations Refugee Agency lost its temper this week attacking the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for its long adhered inhumane conduct to Somali refugee migrants there. The Agency urged Saudis to refrain from any extra (refoulement) deportation of Somali people to Mogadishu. As Agency’s chief spokesperson Melissa Fleming reported to press in Geneva, indicated more than 2000 Somalis were deported in the months of June and July alone. All are flown back to Mogadishu amid new surges of fierce conflicts.
Saudis did not sign 1951 Geneva Convention in which global nations committed to protecting of refugees and asylum seekers, thus the country does not have national refugee policy which mandates the kingdom to accommodate asylum seekers. However UN is now urging to all countries be it a signatory of the international treaty or not should extend some form of protection to Somalis by considering to humanity grounds and generalized violence at home.
We know Saudi Arabia is much different from Yemen; it possesses 25% of the world’s proven petroleum reserves, ranks as the largest exporter of petroleum which classified the country into the fore front of the global economic hierarchy.
Despite such abundant wealth, since Somalis fled to all over the world, Saudi Arabia remained one of worst places Somalis ever set on foot since the wars engulfed in their country. Somali refugee migrants there are dealt in equal or in some cases more cruelty than other migrant workers, Somalis (men and women) are chased on streets like animal hordes, dragged, flogged, detained and forcibly deported back to Mogadishu at a time violence is on the peak.
We call for UNHCR to increase efforts and adopt new strategy to cope the terrible conditions of refugee in the Arabian Peninsula. We need UN to go an extra mile to address the appalling situations in Yemen and Saudi Arabia. I would envision to finding out a resettlement plan which is the only viable option for refugees and for the Agency as well. The current situation in Yemen and the Kingdom’s unsympathetic and intolerable approach cannot be continued any longer. Action must be coordinated to find out a complete cessation to sadistic refoulement by Saudis and seeking a new humane country(s) which can offer an opportunity for resettlement. UN must explore new strategy to contain the suffering of Somalis in this part of the Arab world. I see no hope for a voluntary return by those living there. And their plight has been lost between sheer negligence from the Agency and legal excuses by those countries. As George Bernard Shaw warned: “the worst sin toward our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them”
- Mohamed O. Eyow, Somali Socio-Political Analyst based in UAE; email: email@example.com