Somalis struggle to live in Yemen

24 Mar

Malak Shaher,

Yemen Times


Under the black Yemeni ‘balto’ dress that women wear before going out into the street, the two veiled Somali girls look like Yemenis. They have been trying to integrate into Yemeni society since 2007. Layla Mohammad, 16, and Layla Adam, 20, said that they struggle to be involved in Yemeni society and also struggle to earn a living.The only job Layla Adam can get in Sana’a, especially as she can barely speak Arabic, is a house keeper. She makes YR 15,000 a month (about USD 70), of which she sends USD 50 to her family in Somalia. The rest of her humble salary is spent on food and sharing a room with other Somali families.In spite of trying to look like Yemeni women, they feel sad that they are only brought to weddings to clean the hall, never as guests.Behind the veil, there is the face of an innocent young girl who dared to travel all the way from Somalia to Yemen on a small vessel. When asked about how she came from home to Yemen, Adam said “bel safina”, or by ship. She and her friend Layla Mohammad are both housekeepers.The girls live in the Somali community in Al-Safia, where African families have their social leader who solves social problems without the need of going to a Yemeni police station.
Somali social leader

In Al-Safia, there is a center to help Somali refugees in need, run in cooperation with the UNHCR and IRD.

The community seeks help from a Somali social leader, Abul Rabu Al-Aidaros, who has a good reputation among Somalis in the area and is from a well-known Somali tribe. He settles their problems instead of “bothering the Yemeni police stations with them”, according to Abdulkareem Yazeed, a Somali refugee.

In general, the Somalis living in Yemen are descended from six great tribes: Haweeya, Tarooq, Ishaq, Dajel, Maraf and Athaz. The latter is the supreme tribe, said Ahmad Mohammad, a Somali refugee in Al-Safia.

The current social leader for Somalis is of a Yemeni father and a Somali mother. His mixed parentage is helpful in serving the community to settle disputes between Somalis, and between Somalis and Yemenis.

The previous social leader, Mahmoud Ishaq, originally from Somalia, has been living in Yemen for 22 years, according to his daughter Bushra Mahmoud. She said that in the past when there were disputes, Somalis used to come to their house and ask her father for a resolution as he is an elder and also a descendant from the Ishaq tribe.

Helping Somalis afford the basics of life

The community also helps refugees in need by giving them money to pay for rent and by sending them to a health care center made especially for the refugees.

However, the center cannot cover all the needs of some of the neediest Somalis. The worst case is a woman with four children who work in housekeeping but she cannot afford the very basics of life for her children, according to Yusuf Direi Hassan, deputy chairman of the Somali community center.

He said that the woman, Mariam, comes to the community building after a busy day “begging in streets.” “We give her some money when we can. She is in need and cannot earn enough money,” Hassan added.

Cultural binds

Despite the fact that the African refuges have a social leader who can help them solve problems without the involvement of the police, some cultural issues cannot be solved by him. The female refugees, especially those who have come to Yemen recently and have not had the chance to delve deeper into Yemeni society, still dream of the day when they will be invited to weddings in Yemen.

“I want to be invited to weddings as a friend, not as a woman who cleans the hall after everybody leaves,” said Layla.

Layla said that the little money she earns and the tense situation in Yemen made her decide to return to her homeland, Somalia. She is leaving with a Somali family by ship next week


4 Responses to “Somalis struggle to live in Yemen”

  1. Sofie Moh'd April 26, 2011 at 3:51 pm #

    One of the best stories i’ve come across wher reading The Yemen Times….. It’s sad how these Somalians get treated in the country when its not their fault that their country is in chaos…all they are trying to do is make a better living and try to survive….i think Yemenis should not degrade them just for their color or their situation afterall they are just as human beings as anyone else…

    • malaakshaher April 28, 2011 at 2:06 am #

      you are definitely right Sofie. you have no idea how these two girls were nice to me. they have shown me the way and their broken Arabic was even ok with me. we could communicate with eyes language and with gestures . what is sad actually was when one of them told me that she really wanted to attend weddings as a guest. i felt for her and i imagined myself in her shoes. how sad! i wanted to contact her but as you can see , that was my last story before i left for the US

  2. Tiffany F Tupper April 28, 2011 at 7:13 pm #

    Wonderful work, Malak!

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