Yemeni refugees integrate smoothly into Somali society

The Nation  |  Jan 21, 2022

 Yemeni refugees integrate smoothly into Somali society

Many Somali people still remember how, when civil war gripped their own country, an influx of refugees fled to countries like Yemen and Syria, where they stayed several years until Somalia got back on track its current, slow-moving path towards peace.

Those who fled to Yemen were not expecting that one day, they might also have to open their arms to their former hosts and help them integrate into Somali society.

Najib Sha'naani, one of the refugees who fled from the current bloodshed in his native Yemen, became one of the many prospering restaurant owners serving the southern Arabian cuisine in the Horn of Africa country's capital Mogadishu.

Sha'naani, who has been living in Somalia for the last three years with his family, joined with two of his friends to partner up with local businessmen and open a restaurant in one of the city's strategic throughways.

"When we saw how Somalis have been welcoming us, we knew we were in a better place. Though security challenges still exist here, we adopted it and we became part of our host communities. We feel welcome," Sha'naani told Anadolu Agency in an interview.

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With the arrival of the refugees, Yemeni cuisine and fast food have become increasingly popular in Mogadishu, with dishes like shuwarma, laham mandi, kabab, jubni, chapati, and fried chicken.

He explained that Yemeni refugees in Somalia have full rights to work and move freely without restrictions, allowing them to smoothly integrate into Somali society.

"Whenever you go through Somalia, you see Yemenis and Somalis working together, especially in (the cities of) Hargeisa, Barbara, and the capital Mogadishu. We are not only restauranteurs, though. You can find dental clinics and hospitals that belong to Yemenis," another refugee, who asked to remain unnamed, told Anadolu Agency.

Ex-refugee

Yaasin Hassan is a Somali national who fled to Yemen after a civil war broke out in his country in the early 1990s. Hassan said Somalis had felt welcome in Yemen and now wanted to repay the favor.

Having lived in the mostly Somali al-Basateen refugee camp on the outskirts of the city of Aden, Hassan said none of the refugees had been subject to ID, passport, or other documentation requirements.

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"Yemenis are our brothers. We want them to feel welcome and travel and work wherever they'd like in Somalia with no restrictions," Hassan told Anadolu Agency, voicing support for the Somali government to help vulnerable Yemeni refugees in the country.

"I frequently go to a Yemeni restaurant in the Bakara market, at the Dabka intersection. They offer delicious food in their restaurants and they're really good people. It would be a good thing for our country and economic growth to integrate them," he said.

As of late December, 8,341 Yemeni and 1,056 Syrian refugees and asylum seekers were registered in Somalia, according to Faith Kasina, a regional spokesperson for the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).

Kasina, the UNHCR spokesperson for the East, Horn of Africa and Great Lakes region, had told Anadolu Agency that Yemenis were granted prima facie refugee status in Somalia and have access to all basic services on a relatively equal basis with the host community.

"Yemenis generally integrate well in Somalia. Some arrive in the country with purchasing power, establish businesses and achieve socio-economic integration. Those without purchasing power work in different sectors of the national economy such as construction and the hospitality industry, among others," said Kasina.

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People in Yemen have strong networks with members of the Yemeni diaspora, including those in Somalia, which are useful in helping them mobilize support, skills and resources to be able to thrive as a community.

Challenges

Limited opportunities to make a living has made it difficult for refugees and asylum seekers to meet their basic needs, according to the UNHCR.

"While they possess plenty of skills, there are limitations in the labor market which impacts their abilities to find meaningful work and earn an income. Access to quality education and healthcare are also major concerns for refugees and asylum seekers," Kasina said.

The public education system in Somalia has faced challenges impacting refugee children and youth, such as language barriers.

On the health side, refugees must navigate their way through the Horn of African country's broken healthcare system, as do locals, though it can be hard for refugees to receive treatment for certain conditions.

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The UNHCR and its partners provide support for Yemeni and Syrian refugees in Somalia in different areas, such as documentation, financial assistance, shelter, education, health, legal services, psycho-social support, and child protection case management.

The impact of nearly three decades of armed conflict in Somalia, compounded by drought and other natural hazards, challenges the resilience and coping mechanisms of Somalia's most vulnerable residents, including the thousands of Yemeni, Syrian refugees and asylum seekers.

Despite their freedom to work and travel and their access to essential services, refugees in Somalia still require support and protection.

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