Unrest Makes Somalia Unlikely Safe Haven for Refugees

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Four years of a brutal civil war in Yemen has forced more than 4.3 million people to leave their homes. Many of the Yemenis desperately seeking safety are turning to neighboring Somalia.

Ranked as one of the 10 poorest countries in the world by the United Nations (UN), Somalia is considered one of the least politically stable countries, and faces a continued threat from al-Shabab jihadists.

Many Somalis who were living in the country during the 1980s conflict and the 1991 civil war outbreak fled to then-relatively stable Yemen. But the refugee movement has been reversed since late 2014, when a devastating military confrontation in Yemen, between the government and the Houthi rebels, spiraled into the world’s most severe humanitarian crisis.

One of the Yemeni refugees, Saleh al-Amodi, said he made it to Somalia in 2014 after a risky journey, in which he sailed on a small boat from the Gulf of Aden in southwest Yemen to Bosaso port in northeastern Somalia.

“I was lucky I made it safely to Somalia. A number of people have died in the journey through the sea after their boats sank. Sometimes clashes take place just before the coastal area of Yemen, and a missile might hit one of the fragile boats, sinking its passengers,” al-Amodi told VOA.

Weeks before he could leave, Al-Amodi sent his wife and two children to safety in Saudi Arabia. By the time he tried to join them in, Saudi authorities had already closed their borders. The family have been separated since then.

“Anyone who tries to illegally cross to neighboring countries like Saudi Arabia or Oman will be shot or arrested. I haven’t seen my family for almost five years,” al-Amodi said.

‘We are only seeking some dignity’

Al-Amodi was placed in a refugee camp in Khahda district, which is near the Somali capital, Mogadishu, shortly after his arrival. He said the camp can barely secure food, health care and education for Yemeni refugees.

“We are only seeking some dignity. The situation in Yemen is dangerous, and the situation here in Somalia is terrible. We depend on the support of local aid groups and individual donations that don’t meet the needs of the refugees. We don’t know what to do,” al-Amodi said.

Somalia is a member of the 1951 Refugee Convention, which obligates the country to allow entry in asylum-seekers. However, refugee groups said the country needs major support and capacity building in order to provide proper care for those who have been displaced.

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