Community Services and Assistance to Refugees and Asylum-Seekers in Yemen
Yemen is the poorest country in the Arab world and consistently ranks at the bottom of the United Nations Development Index. Still, for those fleeing war, persecution, and famine in the Horn of Africa, it is both a transit country and destination. The civil unrest of 2011 had political, economic, and security repercussions that affected Yemenis of all social strata and by no means spared the refugee population. As the international community either evacuated or relocated staff out of the capital city of Sana’a and local NGOs struggled to operate under the pressure, IRD remained working closely with refugee community leaders and UNHCR to manage the crisis. While desperate Somalis returned to Somalia and Iraqis to Iraq, those without the means to escape with their families sought refuge at the IRD-supported Community Centers where 1,376 secondarily displaced vulnerable refugees were provided with food, accommodation, and medical assistance.
IRD Yemen began its partnership with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in 2010 with a project aimed at strengthening the self-management capacity of the Somali refugee community, Yemen’s largest refugee community. In 2011, the project expanded to include all refugee communities who flee mainly from Ethiopia, Iraq, and Eritrea. Through targeted trainings for refugee committees and sub-committees, IRD’s success in building the capacity of the various refugee committees was demonstrated most clearly during the civil unrest, as IRD-supported community leaders, outreach workers, and volunteers worked day and night to organize the displaced communities and address the needs of the most vulnerable. Having demonstrated its emergency response capacity and humanitarian drive, IRD is now responsible for managing UNHCR’s assistance program to vulnerable urban refugees.
IRD’s work on the ground with refugee communities has revealed a general lack of awareness concerning rights and responsibilities as refugees in Yemen. In response, IRD is conducting an outreach exercise targeting every refugee household in Sana’a with the objective of raising awareness on rights and responsibilities, and also available services that address health, protection, food security, and other issues faced by urban refugees. Awareness raising efforts not only target refugees but also host communities. In an unprecedented media initiative, IRD produced a ten-part Arabic language radio series that reached 100,000 people including a lively drama that follows a Somali family’s displacement from Somalia to Sana’a as well as Sheikhs’ opinions on the place of refugees in Islam. Furthermore, IRD continues to provide material and training support to refugee-run community based daycare centers as well as support to non-formal educational activities and other community initiatives conducted from the community centers.
Meanwhile, great challenges lie ahead as basic commodity prices, infrastructure, and services remain deeply affected by the unrest, impacting the refugee population even more than the suffering local population.
The Community Services and Assistance to Refugees and Asylum-Seekers in Sana’a – Yemen program is funded by the UNHCR and implemented by IRD. The project is scheduled to run from January through December 2012.