SOMALIA-YEMEN: More than 15,000 Somali refugees live in squalid conditions
ADEN, 10 April 2007 (IRIN) - Amnah Abdul-Hamid, 26, escaped war in Somalia in search of a better life in Yemen. But since arriving four years ago, her two children have died of diarrhoea and she is now sick and destitute.
Photo: Mohammed al-Jabri/IRIN
|More than 15,000 Somali refugees live in squalid conditions in the al-Basateen area of Aden province
“I suffer from brain neuritis [inflammation of a nerve or nerves]. I am in dire need of help as I have no job to provide food and shelter for myself,” said Amnah, a divorcee who lives and depends on a Somali family living in the predominantly Somali al-Basateen area of Aden province.
"I need to work but I am sick, and the war in my country prevents me from returning," she said.
Like Amnah, scores of Somali refugees flock daily to a small room in the centre of al-Basateen area, where Somali community leaders meet. This is their first port of call whenever they have problems.
The refugees have selected seven leaders, including women, who represent their tribes, to head the Somali Community and address their issues.
Established six years ago, the’ Somali Community Leadership’ has no resources. "We manage by ourselves. The rent of the leadership's room is paid by ADRA [an international NGO]," Mohammed Deriah, the overall leader of the Somali Community, said.
According to him, 15,540 Somali refugees with identification cards live in al-Basateen area, while many others live there without ID. "Over the past three weeks, we received 2,500 Somali refugees who fled their country to escape the war," he told IRIN.
|I suffer from brain neuritis [inflammation of a nerve or nerves]. I am in dire need of help as I have no job to provide food and shelter for myself.
Most of the houses at al-Basateen are made of tin and mud. Their monthly rent ranges from 3,000 to 5,000 Yemeni riyals a month (about US $16-26).
Ventilation and sanitation are very poor there. The area is neither well planned nor asphalted. Rubbish is thrown outside houses as there are no waste bins.
Dr. Fares Najeeb, head of the Charitable Society for Social Welfare (CSSW) health facility at al-Basateen, said poverty and poor sanitation are the root causes of diseases among the refugees. Najeeb said the common diseases in the area are diarrhoea, chest inflammation and, to some extent, malaria. He estimated the cases of malaria at 80 a month. In addition, at least one tuberculosis case is reported a month, he said.
There are only two health facilities there, one of which deals with children and mothers. The two facilities were set up by CSSW, a local NGO, in 1999. The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) assists them, while the Ministry of Health provides free medication and 43 health workers.
Photo: Muhammad al-Jabri/IRIN
"We came to Yemen with the hope to travel to another country, but as we failed, my husband was in such a mental state that he has since disappeared."
Somali refugee Habibah Hassan
During summer, residents face water shortages and electricity outages. "The government reduces the water supply to the area during summer. The same can be said about electricity, at a time when we need such services all the more," said community leader Deriah.
Deriah added that while Somali children were permitted to attend public schools for free, most did not go. “Families can't afford other requirements like notebooks and school uniforms. Very few boys attend school," he said.
Somali refugees at al-Basateen depend mainly on menial jobs - such as washing cars, working in construction sites and cleaning houses - as a source of income.
Somali refugee Habibah Hassan, 35, said she arrived in Yemen seven years ago after armed gangs tied up her husband - a former colonel in the former Somali national army - in Somalia, robbed him of US $20,000, and treaded on her stomach, causing her to miscarry.
Habibah described living conditions in al-Basateen as ‘miserable’. "We came to Yemen with the hope to travel to another country, but as we failed, my husband was in such a mental state that he has since disappeared," she said.
Last month, Erika Feller, UNHCR's Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, visited Yemen and described the Somali refugees’ situation as “distressing”. She called for additional resources to improve their conditions.
According to UNHCR, there are about 100,000 refugees in Yemen, most of whom are Somalis.
Yemen is a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol.
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