Monday, November 30, 2009

Yemen: Orphaned in their home countries, minors flee to Yemen in search of a better life

Abdi (left) an unaccompanied minor at Kharaz camp

The rising number of minors fleeing the Horn of Africa is becoming a challenge for the UN and aid organizations, as the number of new arrivals in Yemen reached record highs this year.

Some of their parents died either while fleeing to Yemen or upon arrival; others were orphaned in their home countries and migrated in the hope of finding better opportunities in Yemen, but the vast majority hope to be smuggled to Saudi Arabia or other wealthy Gulf states to find work opportunities, according to UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) officials.

“In Somalia, I have many brothers, and my mother and father died,” Abdi Ahmed Taher, 16, told IRIN, “I came to Yemen to study and find a peaceful place where there is stability.” He came to Kharaz camp near Yemen’s southern city, Aden, six months ago after he fled Somalia for Djibouti in order to be smuggled across the Bab El Mandab Strait to Yemen.

Now Taher lives in a tent on the outskirts of Kharaz camp with two boys who also fled to Yemen alone. While standard operating procedures calls for unaccompanied minors to be placed with foster families, finding parents willing to take on boys over the age of 15 is difficult because in Somali culture they are considered men, aid workers say.

Explaining the risks

After an unaccompanied minor is discovered at a reception centre along Yemen’s coast and brought to Kharaz camp, community mobilizers from the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) explain the risks involved in being smuggled to Saudi Arabia, such as sexual abuse, imprisonment and possible deportation.

Parents pressure their children to be smuggled into Saudi Arabia to make money to send back home to Somalia, says Salma Imtiaz, UNHCR community services officer in Aden.

“The parents are sending their children willingly,” she said. “Most [unaccompanied minors] are not even going to school. They are more into finding jobs.”

Only about 5 percent of unaccompanied minors are convinced not to be trafficked, according to UNHCR workers at Kharaz.

“At first I wanted to be smuggled to Saudi Arabia,” said Zeband, 18, who now lives with two other teenage girls in Kharaz. “I heard in Somalia that you can find good work in Saudi Arabia as a housemaid and make a good salary.”

After Zeband learned from aid organizations about the sexual abuse that many young Somali women suffer in Saudi Arabia, she decided to stay in Kharaz.

When minors are too young to live on their own, aid organizations find a foster family with whom they can live based on certain criteria such as whether the family has a good reputation amongst the community at Kharaz and whether the children come from the same clan in Somalia as the foster family, said Abdi Sayid Ibrahaim from ADRA.

Fatima, already a mother of seven, became a foster mother for three Somali orphans. Her home is well equipped by Kharaz standards, with its own bathroom and a satellite dish.

“It is very difficult to take care of children who are not your own,” she told IRIN, “But as we are Muslims, we need to take care of them. If I see someone who is very poor, I must feed them.”

Disclaimer:This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States.
Photo: Copyright IRIN

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