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Yemen: Somali refugees live in alarming conditions

An estimated 4,000 Somali refugees are living in alarming conditions in the Yemeni capital Sanaa, and their living situations have worsened since the civil war erupted early last year between dominant Shiite Houthi group and exiled government of internationally recognized President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

The refugees face extreme poverty; no jobs, no food security, no rent-free shelters nor health facilities to receive them. Many have been struggling to pay their rent of insanitary rooms, while few families can afford payment and instead sleep on some backstreets or join others in small rooms.

The refugees also have s shortage of water, electricity and integration into labor market. The refugees have no alternative as their living situations have worsen because of the ongoing economic crisis following the eruption of the civil war in March last year.

“We (the refugees) have no rent-free accommodation or shelter in Sanaa as most of Yemenis have recently hesitate to rent us rooms or houses because we cannot afford payment,” explained 55-year-old Abdel Rahman al-Zaylaiee, the chairman of the Somali refugees’ community in Sanaa, who came to Yemen nearly 16 years ago.

“How do you see a man with no job or any source of income crowded with his 11-member family in a small room or sleeping on the street?” he asked. “That is our months-long tragedy… and no one care about us.”

“About four thousand Somali refugees, mostly women and children, have been living here in Sanaa for years with no rent-free shelter or enough food, and our situations got poorer especially after the war,” al-Zaylaiee said.

Their sad faces and tattered clothes tell untold stories. The refugees live in a poor quarter, known as al-Safiyah in the southeast part of Sanaa. They enjoy a small clinic in the area supported by the UNHCR.

The clinic lacks emergency section and almost empty from any kind of medicine or essential medical equipment due to the war and economic crisis. The patients have to go to private hospitals and buy medicine on their own.

The refugees’ chairman al-Zaylaiee complains of stopping aid from humanitarian agencies, particularly after war.

“Since the war began in March 2015, we received financial aid only one time in the beginning of each year from the UNHCR,” al-Zaylaiee said. “If you have a family, you received 150 USD, but if you are a single you got only 50 dollars… only one-time payment a year,” al-Zaylaiee said.

Abdel Malik Mohammed, a 23-year-old refugee said that before the eruption of war the young refugees had work in the popular markets and used to wash cars to earn money. “But now no one asks you to wash his car, except very few rich people,” he said.

“We have no clothes, blankets or enough food to warm my mother and sisters during this harsh winter weather… I have not paid the rent for four months and the owner has vowed to drop us out to the street if I do not pay it,” he added.

Somali refugees fled conflicts in their homeland and made very dangerous journeys through the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden to seek a better life in Yemen or neighboring oil-rich Gulf countries.

An estimated 200,000 Somali refugees are living in several Yemeni cities, according to the latest 2015 statistics by the UNHCR. UNHCR says that more than 26,000 Somali refugees have fled violence in Yemen and returned to Somalia, mostly to Mogadishu.

Many refugees have taken Yemen as a crossing road to Saudi Arabia, but after the war erupted in Yemen-Saudi joint borders between Houthi fighters and Saudi government army, which backed the Yemeni government, the borders were closed and most infiltrators lost their lives during shootings between Saudi border guards and Houthi fighters.

“We have been trapped here,” said 28-year-old Omar Abdel Kadir, who refused to be pictured.

“Before the war, many of us, including me, went to Saudi border cities through Yemeni and Somali smugglers and found work there… and when there were no work we returned back to Sanaa to wait for other chances,” said Abdel Kadir who came to Yemen nearly seven years ago.

“Nowadays the situation has totally changed. If you risk traveling to Saudi border you will be shot dead either by Yemeni fighters or Saudi border guards … dozens of my friends have been killed near the joint borders since the beginning of war,” he said.
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