“We are not being treated like human beings,” says an Oromo-Ethiopian refugee at a prison on the sprawling grounds of Yemen’s immigration center compound.
The U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR) estimates that 120 Africans are currently held at the center. The prisoners, who keep meticulous notes and ready copies of important documents, report 114 inmates, and provide a breakdown based on gender, age and ethnicity.
UNHCR says all prisoners at the immigration prison are “self-detained.” They are free to leave when they please but choose to stay until their demands are met, the refugee agency claims. Current prisoners deny this claim.
“Oromo prisoners and our representatives are in a government prison. It’s news to us that prisoners are free to enter and leave prison at their own will.”
Although UNHCR Public Information Associate Jamal Al-Najjar says most of the Ethiopian and Eritrean prisoners are migrants, not refugees. Prisoners at the detention center provided Yemen Times with copies of their UNHCR letters of recognition of their refugee status.
Government Policy on Refugees
Yemen, the only country in the Arabian Peninsula that is a signatory to the U.N.’s 1951 Refugee Convention, does not recognize Ethiopians and Eritreans escaping political persecution in their respective countries as refugees. While granting prima facie refugee status to all Somalis who survive the dangerous voyage to Yemen, government policy toward Ethiopians and Eritreans is to “track them down, arrest them and deport them,” according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).
The HRW considers the Yemeni government’s refusal to grant refugee status to Ethiopians and Eritreans as “discriminatory policy that violates international law.” UNHCR Associate Protection Officer Gamal Al-Jabi defended the government’s position.
“It is not a matter of discrimination,” Al-Jabi says. “Somalia has been at war for two decades. You can’t compare the situation there to Ethiopia or Eritrea.”