Desperately Seeking Haven
"There is a saying in Somalia: 'Choose between one of two hard things'. In Yemen, there is war. Here in Somalia, there is no good employment but at least there is peace."
"I saw bodies in the street [in Yemen]."
"We were all afraid the boat would sink. It was not safe [his family's passage across the Gulf of Aden, fleeing Yemen for Somalia]."
"Sometimes it [his meagre earnings] is enough, sometimes it is not enough [to feed his family]. Sometimes we are hungry. Life is very tough here."
Hassan Cabdoo, Yemeni refugee, Burao, Somaliland
"Due to the political situation in Yemen, more and more are coming. They face big challenges when they arrive."
"We need to be sure proper information is delivered. We can't allow people to come to Somalia with no knowledge about the situation, which includes dramatic issues with the drought."
Julien Navier, spokesman, UNHCR agency
|THE United Nations compound in Mogadishu now bears the scars of the world body’s troubled return to Somalia’s battered capital. Suicide-bombers blew off its front gates on June 19th, letting gunmen of the Shabab, the al-Qaeda-linked movement that used to dominate the country, shoot their way in|
Somalia is a ruined country. In the aftermath of its civil war it has been struggling to re-establish law and order and rebuild ruined infrastructure. It is also suffering from drought conditions, and like many other parts of Africa, the prospect of famine raises its ugly head. Hardly a place where anyone might want to migrate to, to find haven, to begin a new life, to aspire to prosper, to give their children another chance to gain opportunities for the future.
Somalia is neither safe, nor is its economy regenerated. Unemployment is high, and Mogadishu, like much of the country lies in a ruined state. Warlords, drug dealing, Islamist insurgents, kidnappers and pirates all make their home in this violent, dysfunctional country. This is no secret, that Somalia is a dangerous country to live in. Somalians have made their desperate way out of the country to seek haven in Europe, joining the vast throngs of other nationals fleeing conflict and danger.
But this is where tens of thousands of Yemeni refugees have sought to establish themselves, where they hope to find safety from the newer war ravaging their country. In Yemen the war is actively raging, with a Saudi Arabian-led military assault group fighting the Iranian-supported Houthi rebels who have challenged the official government. This is a proxy war between the Islamic Republic of Iran, seeking to enlarge its influence in the region, encompassing Shiite links with Iran in Syria, Lebanon (Hezbollah), Iraq, and Yemen.
The sectarian conflicts that have roiled the Middle East led to the situation where millions of Syrian Sunnis have fled their country to find refuge in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and elsewhere, spilling over when the opportunity presents itself, overland and by sea into Europe. Yemenites, desperate to escape the bombings and killings, have opted to find haven elsewhere. Their choices are not great, and some have risked their very lives to leave Yemen for Somalia.
Their choice is to remain where they are, and hope to survive the brutal onslaught where Sunni and Shiite challenge one another, where al-Qaeda and Islamic State have their own fanatical presence in the country, awaiting their opportunities, or to choose to leave their country of origin. Now struggling to remain alive in Somalia, a country where aid agencies warn that hundreds of thousands face the possibility of starvation, their dilemma has improved but marginally.
When Hassan Cabdoo fled Yemen for Mogadishu his family was among hundreds of other Yemenites loaded into an unseaworthy boat for the two-day crossing across the Gulf of Aden, facing a rough sea, insufficient food and night-time plunging temperatures. Now established in Burao among mostly nomads whose own fortunes have plummeted as their livestock succumbed to the drought, malnourished children crowd the local hospital.
A tailor who earned an average $15 daily in Yemen before the outbreak of civil war, if he can earn $5 a day he considers himself fortunate. And while there is no war in Somalia, there is crime and there is everpresent danger. And there is also the fact of high unemployment. In a relatively stable and wealthy country like South Africa, which has seen an increase in refugees from nearby warring states, unemployment is also high, and so is resentment, with South Africans blaming refugees for taking jobs from them.
How long before violence breaks out between the indigenous Somalians unable to find work, much less feed their hungry families, blaming the presence of Yemenite refugees for the worsening situation? And bearing in mind that the influx of Yemeni families is nowhere near finished, as greater numbers strive to leave the violence and the fear of death behind, to stake their claims in another impoverished nation like their own, broken by war and savagely beset by crime and starvation.