Djibouti Welcomes Yemeni Refugees

The regional secretariat for mixed migration reported that an estimate of 36,162 Yemeni refugees have landed in Djibouti since violence had erupted in Yemen. Thousands of Yemeni people are living in Markazi, which is one of the main refugee camps in Djibouti. Markazi is a gated compound outside the fishing town of Obock in the north of Djibouti. However ,a significant number of refugees have moved to the capital , Djibouti-ville in hopes of finding work and a transit visa.

Although, while there are not many opportunities for newcomers in Djibouti due to high unemployment rates and food shortages, the country has still welcomed refugees. Djibouti is a small nation and has a population of less than a million. It is known for not hosting any foreign military bases. The government has included in their acceptance of refugees that they have the right to access health, education, and employment.

“They are our brothers and sisters, it would be inhuman not to help,” says Obock’s prefect, Hassan Gabaleh Ahmed. His dilapidated office building with rusting chairs and just one phone line is only a few hundred metres away from the beach where most Yemenis come ashore.

Djibouti officials may be acting with good intentions as refugees could assist in boosting the countries economy. The most popular restaurant in Obock, frequented by locals and aid workers alike, is run by refugees. Yemenis have also set up their own moto-taxi service to help camp dwellers go to town and use the Internet café or buy sweets for their children.

“Refugees are generating a lot of business,” says Ahmed Houmed, the camp administrator for the Djibouti refugee agency.

However, not all Yemenis are finding the transition easy. Living in the city can be expensive and language barriers prove to be challenging, as the Djibouti people are Francophone and most Yemenis speak English. Many Yemeni job-seekers in the capital run out of money and have to return to the camp where temperatures can often reach 50C and violent sandstorms imprison people for hours on end.

Many Yemeni refugees have also decided to return home. UNCHR Camp Manager, Salim Jaafar recently said that “We tell them it’s not safe to return, but we can’t stop them from leaving.” As well, many have taken the three-hour boat trip to Yemen only to be pushed back by the ongoing fighting, often more than once.

The number of Yemeni arriving in Djibouti has decreased over the past months, but with over two million internally displaced Yemenis and no peace agreement in sight, the influx could increase again, warns Jaafar. The patience of Djibouti authorities may also start to disappear. “We are a poor country,” says prefect Ahmed, “if they keep coming, we will need more support.”

Currently,  many Yemeni refugees are waiting, but they do not know what for, as the future is unclear.

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