The unique response of the Horn of Africa region to Yemeni refugees could offer lessons to countries and regions dealing with similar influxes elsewhere.
Escalating internal fighting and Saudi-led air strikes in Yemen have led to an estimated 21.4 million people – more than 80% of its population – being in need of humanitarian protection or assistance.
More than one million people have been forced from their homes. Of these, approximately 100,000, both Yemenis and foreign nationals, have fled to seek safety elsewhere. The majority – about 70,000 – have crossed the Gulf of Aden, seeking refuge in countries such as Somalia, Sudan, Ethiopia and Djibouti.
Access to territory and protection has been swift for Yemeni refugees arriving in the Horn of Africa. This provides a lesson in hospitality that would be well heeded elsewhere.
Unique reversal of roles
Yemeni displacement to the Horn of Africa is in some respects unique. Africa is a continent familiar with large-scale refugee crises. However, it is uncommon for those seeking protection in the region to arrive from elsewhere.
With the possible exception of South Africa – which receives a small number of applications for asylum from persons outside thecontinent – those seeking refuge in African states tend to come from within the region itself.
What is even more striking is that the countries of asylum themselves – including Somalia, Sudan and Ethiopia – are among the chief refugee-producing countries in the region. Prior to the outbreak of conflict, Yemen was itself host to some 250,000 refugees, mainly from Somalia.
The Horn of Africa is a region beset with poverty and insecurity. So how has it responded to this influx of refugees from outside? The Yemeni crisis provides a unique perspective on refugee protection in a region where refugee policies and practices have largely not been analysed.