Though it has not drawn as much international attention as the conflicts in Iraq and Syria, the ongoing civil war in Yemen has devastated an already struggling country.
One reason for the lack of attention is because the Yemen conflict has produced a smaller number of international refugees. Yet, almost 200,000 people have fled the country and more than 2 million have been internally displaced. Below are ten facts about Yemeni refugees and the volatile situation that has led to a protracted civil war.
- Most Yemeni refugees are foreigners themselves. Yemen has long been viewed as the entry point to the Middle East. This is the case for many people coming from poorer countries in Africa since Yemen borders Saudi Arabia, a wealthier country home to huge numbers of guest workers.
- A large number of Yemeni refugees are internally displaced. As of December 2015, there were an estimated 2.5 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Yemen. This is almost 10 percent of the population.
- Even prior to the war, Yemen was the poorest country in the Middle East. This means that Yemeni refugees have scarcer resources to draw upon than refugees from other war-torn countries in the region.
- Many of the refugees from Yemen are now living in other poor countries. Of note, 33,000 Yemeni refugees now live in Djibouti and 32,000 in Somalia, two countries that are highly unstable and major producers of refugees themselves.
- Yemen’s geographic position makes it difficult for displaced persons to leave the country. Yemen is located at the corner of the Arabian Peninsula and its land borders include one of the most inhospitable desert terrains in the world. Several of the closest countries by sea are themselves highly unstable and violent.
- Historically, Yemen has been a generous acceptor of refugees. It is the only country in the Arabian Peninsula to be party to the 1951 U.N. Convention and the 1967 Protocol on Refugees. Yemen has welcomed refugees from countries in the Horn of Africa that suffer from persistent civil strife and repressive governments, like Somalia and Eritrea.
- Yemen’s civil war is locked in a stalemate. This means that the number of Yemeni refugees may increase as the nation’s infrastructure continues to be destroyed by war.
- Yemen’s internal divisions have deep historical roots. During the colonial era, the north was controlled by the Ottoman Empire and the south by Great Britain. During the Cold War, North Yemen was capitalist while South Yemen was communist.
- Water scarcity has reached crisis levels in Yemen. This is one of the most important facts about Yemeni refugees and it also affects the entire population. According to The Guardian, 50 percent of Yemenis struggle to obtain clean water and the capital city of Sanaa may run out of water in the near future. As is the case for many conflicts around the world, water scarcity and control of water supplies are key issues.
- Yemen’s population has a high percentage of young people. Over 40 percent of the population is 14 years old or younger, and more than 20 percent falls in the 15 -24 age range.
Raising awareness of these facts about Yemeni refugees is important. Refugees all over the world flee from war and civil strife to seek refuge and find a better life, not just from Syria and Iraq. The facts here may not be an exhaustive list of the Yemeni refugee situation, but they provide insight into the issues this country faces on a daily basis.
– Jonathan Hall-Eastman