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Yemen’s winning World Press Photo

18 Feb
Samuel Aranda’s winning photo beat off competition from more than 100,000 other entries.
Samuel Aranda’s winning photo beat off competition from more than 100,000 other entries.

Fatima Al-Qaws, is the veiled woman cradling her wounded son after an anti-government demonstration in October. She is also one of the subjects in Samuel Aranda’s winning World Press photo.

Al-Qaws, who is from Ba’dan district in Ibb governorate but lives in Sana’a, explained that she only found out about the photo after her niece phoned from the UAE – though she still did not realize the significance of the picture.

“I thought that the photo people were talking about was actually my appearance in an interview on Suhail TV and Al-Jazeera some months ago, so I did not pay much attention to it,” she said, but her niece insisted it was her and her son.

Al-Qaws explained that she first saw the photo on her son’s mobile phone and recalled the day of October 15 on Al-Zubairy Street – a conflict line between anti-regime protesters and security forces at the time.

“It was after an attack against demonstrators on Al-Zubairy Street,” she said. “I went to the field hospital and did not see my son among the dead or wounded protesters. I checked the place again and saw my son lying on the ground suffocated with tear gas,” she explained. “So I embraced him and [Aranda] must have taken the photo at that moment.”

Her son, Zayed Al-Qawas, 18, said he thought it was a joke until more people called to tell him about Aranda’s picture.

“I did not expect this photo to win among thousands of pictures and it is a real support to the revolution,” he said. “It demonstrates that Yemenis are not extremists.”

Helping Yemen

The Spanish photographer’s photo, which was taken while on assignment for the New York Times, beat off competition from more than 100,000 entries to win one of the most prestigious photography awards on Friday.

The New York Times’ Lens Blog wrote that after hearing the news, Aranda called his mother in Spain, who cried for 45 minutes. He said that “while conversations might revolve around composition and form”, he hopes it will help the people of Yemen. He also commented on the help he received from Yemeni photographers – specifically mentioning Mohamed Al-Sayaghi of Reuters.

Aranda, who now lives in Tunisia, covered the Arab Spring from Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen. In December, he presented a selection of Arab Spring photos at the Spanish Embassy in Sana’a, alongside freelance photographer Lindsay Mackenzie.

‘An intimate moment’

Koyo Kouoh, one of the jury members on the World Press photo board, said: “It is a photo that speaks for the entire region. It stands for Yemen, Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, and Syria, for all that happened in the Arab Spring.

“But it shows a private, intimate side of what went on. And it shows the role that women played, not only as care-givers, but as active people in the movement.”

Nina Berman, another World Press judge, added, “In the Western media, we seldom see veiled women in this way, at such an intimate moment. It is as if all of the events of the Arab Spring resulted in this single moment – in moments like this.”

Yemeni photographers are also proud of Aranda’s achievement. “We feel proud of this photo because it is very important for the world to have a new impression of Yemen,” Nadia Abdulla, a freelance Yemeni photographer, said.

“The foreign media has been presenting Yemenis as terrorists but this is the first time Yemen’s beautiful and expressive side has been shown,” she added.

Setting the standard

The 2011 World Press Photo award is the 55th annual contest in what is universally recognized as the world’s leading photojournalism prize, setting the standard for the profession.

The contest draws entries by professional press photographers, photojournalists and documentary photographers from across the world, with 5,247 photographers from 124 countries participating this year and 101,254 pictures judged.

The jury awarded prizes to 57 photographers in nine themed categories, with the Arab Spring and the Japanese earthquake and tsunami both making a big impact.

All entries are presented and judged anonymously by 19 internationally recognized professionals over two weeks before the winners are announced.

Aranda will officially receive his World Press award in Amsterdam on Saturday, April. 21, 2012. The award also carries a cash prize of €10,000 and a Canon EOS Digital SLR Camera and lens kit.

An exhibition of the award-winning images will be open to the public at the Oude Kerk, Oudekerksplein, in Amsterdam on Friday, April 20, until June 17.

A worldwide tour of the exhibition will also be launched, covering a record 105 venues in 45 countries. Combined with a yearbook, distributed internationally in seven languages, the winning images will reach a worldwide audience of millions in the course of the year


When Somali piracy became a threat

15 Dec
Some of the key ports used by Somali pirates


Since 2005, Somali pirates started to move around the Yemeni waters to hijack ships and kidnap crews, asking for millions of dollars as ransoms and causing an ever-increasing problem for Yemen. Somali piracy in the 20th century began with the collapse of the state in 1991. As the security situation deteriorated, the smuggling of illegal immigrants as well as the smuggling weapons began to flourish. The marine forces collapsed and tribal leaders used the lack of security and the spread of their forces over Somali lands to extort tributes from passing ships. Day by day, pirates were threatening ships in the waters off Somalia. The Gulf of Aden became a piracy hotspot with high-profile ships and tankers taken hostage.

By Malak Shaher

Yemen Times
It was 5pm on Mar. 8, 2005 when two sailing yachts, Mahdi and Gandalf were moving 30 miles off the coast of Aden to Oman. Suddenly, two motor-powered boats, about 25 and 30 feet long with four armed men in each “came very fast directly at us,” Rodney Nowlin, a sailor of south Virginia told Noonsite, the global site for cruising sailors.

Before these two boats approached, Nowlin said another two boats were observing them, each with three men on board. These boats just watched as the bigger two approached them.

“The boats separated at about 200 yards, one boat ahead of the other, coming down Mahdi’s port side, and firing into the cockpit. The other boat was firing an automatic weapon at both Gandalf and Mahdi from ahead. These guys were shooting directly at the cockpits, and obviously intended to kill us,” Nowlin told Noonsite in May 2005.

That incident was the first piracy attack in Yemeni waters in 2005, marking the start of a reign of terror against ships and oil tankers in Somalia’s surrounding waters.

Soon after this attempt, the Yemeni Coast Guard Authority and other operational offices in the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Sea increased their efforts in fighting piracy.

“In the beginning, pirates’ operations were confined to stealing small equipment from small ships,” said Shuja’ Al-Deen Al-Mahdi, the head of the Operational Unit at the Yemeni Coast Guard Authority (YCG).

“But in 2005, their operations started to become increasing sophisticated; they were not satisfied with the small things they stole. Their operations were more professional and they started equipping themselves with guns and night vision goggles – not to mention the bigger and stronger boats they now use,” Al-Mahdi said.

When the owners of the hijacked ships fail to pay the ransom, the pirates eventually use the captured vessels as “mother ships” from which to launch further attacks.

According to the YCG records, piracy operations have grown year by year since 2005, with 2010 being their most active year. In 2010, 57 ships were hijacked in the Yemeni waters with 225 failed hijacking attempts.

So far this year, the YCG has arrested 12 Somali pirates in Yemeni waters – though this doesn’t account for those picked up by international fleets more than 12 miles off the coast.

An international problem

Worldwide, piracy began to increase in the early 1990s, peaking at roughly 350 to 450 reported attacks per year during the period 2000-2004, then declining by almost half by 2005. In 2007, almost half of the world’s reported pirate attacks took place in African waters, mainly near Nigeria and Somalia.

However, the number of attacks in Somali waters doubled in 2008, according to a study by the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) mentioned in the Congressional Research Services.

In Yemen in 2007, 10 ships were hijacked with 20 failed attempts. 42 ships and boats were hijacked in 2008 and 46 ships and boats were hijacked in 2009.

The IMB study found that at least 219 attacks occurred in the Horn of Africa in 2010, with 49 successful hijackings. Somali pirates have attacked ships in the Gulf of Aden, along Somalia’s eastern coastline, and outwards into the Indian Ocean.

The situation in Somalia, and the piracy threat, was the subject of an open debate at the UN Security Council in March 2011, during which the Council stressed the need for a “comprehensive strategy to encourage the establishment of peace and stability in Somalia.”

According to the IBM study, the increase in pirate attacks off the Horn of Africa is directly linked to continuing insecurity and the absence of the rule of law in war-torn Somalia.

Somalia’s “pirate economy” has also grown substantially in the past two years, with ransoms now averaging more than $5 million. These revenues may further exacerbate the ongoing conflict and undermine regional security. The annual cost of piracy to the global economy ranges between $7 and $12 billion.

Piracy ports

There are four main Somali ports where the country’s pirates receive support and where they can keep hijacked ships and boats, according to Al-Mahdi. The ports are providing pirates with fuel and other required equipment as well as keeping the ships and boats until their owners pay the ransoms.

The main ports are Eyl, Hobye, Caluula and Xaafuun. “From Eyl port in particular come the most dangerous pirates,” said Al-Mahdi. Negotiations between pirates and ships’ owners usually take place in Eyl, making it one of the most dangerous, he added.

Somali pirates in Yemeni

Of the 752 pirates currently facing prosecution in 11 countries, Yemen has arrested 120 pirates since 2005. During 2008 and 2009, Yemen detained 62 pirates.

However, due to the high cost of keeping pirates in detention while they await prosecution, Yemen stopped detaining and trying Somali pirates submitted by international forces since 2009. These pirates were attacking ships in non-Yemeni regional waters, according to the CGA.

Aesh Awwas, from the Sheba Center for Strategic Studies in Saba’a, says there are no specific laws covering the trial of pirates caught outside of Yemen.

“Piracy in international waters has created a problem for Yemen as the country is not responsible for Somali pirates hijacking ships outside its waters,” said Awwas.

Last month, ten pirates were sentenced to ten years each by the Criminal Court in Al-Mukalla after being in jail and awaiting prosecution for more than 11 months.

And last December, the Penal Court in Al-Mukalla sentenced twelve Somali pirates to thirteen years in jail for conducting piracy attacks in Yemeni and international waters.

Some face even harsher sentences when caught; last year a Yemeni court sentenced six Somali pirates to death and jailed six others for the hijacking of an oil tanker they seized in April 2009. The pirates were captured by the CGA and found guilty of killing two of the oil tanker’s crew.

A growing problem for Yemeni fishermen

As the international navy has been fighting piracy in the Gulf of Aden, Yemeni fishermen have also been caught up in the process. There have been at least three cases where Yemeni fishermen were assumed to be Somali pirates because of their dark-skinned color.

“Some Yemenis are looking to piracy themselves, or even just ‘facilitating’ the piracy of others, be they Yemeni or Somali or of other nationalities,” Michael Frodl, head of US consultancy firm C-Level Maritime Risks, told the Financial Times last month. He blamed the situation on the ongoing political crisis in Yemen.

The Yemeni Coastal Guard Authority denied the accusation against Yemenis becoming involved in piracy, saying that 15 Yemeni fishermen were arrested and beaten after they were accused of piracy. Just a week before the incident in October, seven other men were beaten and their belongings taken, Umar Salim, the head of the Fishermen Association in Hadramout said.

At present, five Yemeni fishermen from Mukala, Hadramout, remain in jail in India after the authorities assumed they were Somali pirates in May. Two months ago another boat in Yemeni waters was attacked by an Indian ship – the fishermen’s belongings, along with their fish, were thrown overboard. The men were also beaten according to Al-Mahdi.

“Piracy has brought us problems that we have no connection with,” said Al-Mahdi, adding that with the passage of time, pirates keep using more sophisticated tactics, making it even harder to tackle the problem.

While the CGA tries to catch the pirates within the allowed Yemeni waters – up to 12 miles off the Yemeni coast – the pirates are using mother ships further out to provide smaller piracy boats with equipment and fuel.

Al-Mahdi concluded: “The more we try to catch them and control piracy, the further away they go, hijacking ships from waters we cannot protect.”

African refugees still in pursuit of secure country

1 Nov
African refugees are still looking for a safe place after the clashes in Yemen broke out late in May. The UNHCR in Yemen, however, said that they claim that they are not safe in order to find a country other than Yemen.

Malak ShaherPublished:29-09-2011

SANA’A, Sept. 27 — Abdul Rahman Aman, 34, an Ethiopian refugee who fled the deadly conflict there ten years now faces a similar fate in Yemen.

“Since the situation escalated in Yemen and the war started in Al-Hasaba district [where Aman lives], I left my house to sit-in in front of the UN office in Yemen until they find a solution,” said Aman.

Aman and other African refugees are in danger now not only because they are Yemeni citizens but also because of the color of their skin.

Recently, media outlets have made allegations that the Yemeni army recruited Somali snipers to target protesters, most recently in the fatal demonstrations in the capital, Sana’a, on September 22. Although this news has not been verified yet, the rumor was enough to be used as discrimination against residents of African origin, according to Musa Al-Nemrani, the spokesman of the Human Rights organization HOOD.

Al-Nemrani said that discrimination against the African refugees in Yemen has increased since the uprisings in Yemen began. The organization has received numerous claims from African women who were sexually harassed. African men have also increasingly been victims of robbery.

He said that the Somalis, who were seen throughout Yemen in large trucks, were accused of being sent to participate in the uprisings. Al-Nemrani said that these trucks are used only to smuggle the Somalis into the country but not to participate in the demonstrations.

“These people fled their own countries to escape from conflicts. They would not be part of the conflict in Yemen,” Al-Nemrani  said.

The refugees, who have been sitting-in at the UN office in Yemen, were accused of using the current situation for their own favor.

According to Nabil Othman from the UNHCR, the African refugees who have been calling on the UN to find a solution for them actually want to go to countries outside Yemen. Othman said that these refugees “claim to be victims of the uprisings in order to push the international community to help them find a country to live in other than Yemen.”

He said that the number of refugees in front of the UN office on Baghdad Street varies from 100 to 200. They arrive in the morning and leave at night.

According to Othman, the UNHCR has offered to them two new centers to live in, in Al-Rebat and on the 50 Meter Streets, but they insist on pressing for a new arrangement.

Abdul Rahman Aman said that he and the other refugees now face greater pressure because it has become more dangerous now even in front of the UN office. Last week, several protesters were killed near the office.

Aman, who used to live in Al-Hasaba Street, has been staying on the streets until he can find a more “secure place to live.”

The problem of accusing dark-skinned people of being used as snipers has accumulated to reach out Yemenis of African mothers.

Another dark-skinned Yemeni man, who preferred to remain anonymous, was forced by armed men to show his identification. His mother is Ethiopian. He said that he was “suspected to be one of those allegedly recruited by the regime as a sniper.”

He works in a Hotel in Hadda street. He claimed that even the Somalis working in wiping cars were asked to show their IDs, as they were suspected of having been recruited to kill people.

HOOD spokesman Al-Nemrani said that the growing fear of dark-skinned people may have negative consequences in the long-run, creating the impression that Yemeni society does not tolerate foreigners and isolating the country even further from its regional neighbors.

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

Yemeni fishermen freed from pirates after three months captivity

21 Feb
Somali pirates caught by the HMS Cornwall. The Yemeni boat and its crew were captured in November 2010. (AFP)
Malak Shaher
Yemen Times
Yemen Times
SANA’A, Feb. 20 — The British navy rescued five Yemeni fishermen, kidnapped three months ago by pirates, the Yemeni Ministry of Defense announced on their website.The British warship, HMS Cornwall handed the crew over to the Coast Guard Authority (CGA) in Al-Mukalla on the Arabian Sea on Feb.9 after they were found in the Indian Ocean.HMS Cornwall’s commanding officer, Commander David Wilkinson, said: “Our presence in the area has had a hugely significant effect on the lives of five Yemeni fishermen, who have been freed from over three months of pirate captivity and can now return to their families,” according to the Daily Mail news website.A South Korean merchant vessel spotted the Somali dhow acting suspiciously in the Indian Ocean and alerted HMS Cornwall.

According to Al-Mahdi, head of the CGA operational unit, the fishermen told them that they were used by the pirates as human shields and had been using their vessel as a mother ship to conduct piracy operations.

The ministry noted that guns, seized from the pirates, were handed over to the Yemeni authorities. The boat, Al-Hobaishi, was also handed over with its crew. The navy is still holding the pirates and rocket-propelled grenades used to attack ships.

Egyptian fishing boat caught illegally fishing in Yemeni waters

The Yemeni Coast Guard Authority and the Marine Navy Forces last week caught an Egyptian boat, fishing illegally in Yemeni waters in the Red Sea.

According to Shuja’ Al-Deen Al-Mahdi, head of the Coast Guard Authority operational unit in Sana’a, the 37m vessel was carrying tons of fish when its 23 crew when captured. The crew was handed over to Yemeni authorities in Hodeida and the vessel – the Taj Al-Islam or Crown of Islam – impounded under the control of the Ministry of Fisheries.

Al-Mahdi said that this was not the first time Egyptian boats had been caught illegally fishing in Yemeni waters in the Red sea. Deputy Minister of Fisheries, Abdulla Ba-Sanabel said Egyptian fishermen are being tried by a court in Hodeida and can face fines from USD 50,000 or seizure of their vessel by the Yemeni authorities.

According to Ba-Sanabel, the Ministry of Fisheries stopped granting fishing licenses in the Red Sea to non-Yemeni fishermen in 2010, because of damage to the marine environment.

“The Ministry of Fishery has stopped granting any vessels the right to fish in the Red Sea in order to grant the marine creatures a biological rest,” Ba-Sanabel told the Yemen Times.

The Yemeni Ministry of Fisheries still allows vessels to fish in the waters of the Arabian Sea with limits on distance and range. It has stopped fishing in the Red Sea in preparation for it to become a naturally preserved marine area.

Yemeni fishermen blamed for African immigrant deaths

6 Jan
Yemeni fishermen in Aden (pictured above) allegedly use ill equipped boats to smuggle illegal immigrants into the country.
Photo by Malak Shaher
Yemen Times
SANA’A, Jan. 5 — Yemeni fishermen who are trying to earn a living were allegedly responsible for the death of illegal immigrants from Africa, Shuja’ Al-Mahdi, head of the Coast Guard Authority’s operational unit in Aden told the Yemen Times.On the first day of this year, two Yemeni fishermen attempted to make some money after their fishing attempts were in vain.The fishermen travelled to the Somali coast and overloaded their old boat with 46 illegal immigrants from Somalia and Ethiopia. The boat lacked basic safety standards and could not withstand angry ocean waves and winds. It capsized and sank in the sea.Only four of the Somali immigrants survived along with the two boat owners, said Al-Mahdi.

“The problem is that fishermen try to find another source of income by taking illegal immigrants from Somalia on their very tattered boats. Furthermore, they overload the boats with people who cannot swim,” said Al-Mahdi.

Illegal immigrants from poor African countries assume that paying USD100 or USD150 could buy them a better life in Yemen. However, they ultimately meet their destiny while at sea.

Al-Mahdi said that the two Yemeni and four Somalis were being detained at the Coast Guard Authority’s office at Ras Al-Ara, 100km west of Aden. He said they were waiting for the government to investigate the matter.

He said that the bodies of the deceased immigrants had not yet been found.

Nabil Othman, the deputy manager of the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said that the boat which carried the unfortunate immigrants started its journey from Bobcat port in Somalia and sank just three hours later.

Othman, who said that the UNHCR had direct access with the survivors, added that a fishing net of the boat carrying the 46 immigrants got stuck in the boat’s engine. This caused it to stop in the middle of the sea.

Othman confirmed Al-Mahdi’s comment that the boat lacked minimum safety standards. There was no rescue equipment on the boat for the passengers who were three times more than the boat’s capacity.

Abdulrahman Al-Barman, a lawyer at the National Organisation for Defending Rights and Freedoms (HOOD), told the Yemen Times that any illegal attempts to take immigrants from their country to Yemen is considered a crime.

The law holds responsible for any damages the persons that transport the immigrants. He said that punishment could be harsher if the smugglers were not following the basic standards of safety on boats that transport immigrants.

Al-Barman said that helping people enter Yemen illegally causes many economic and political problems for the country.

Immigrant’s frequent attempts to find a better life in Yemen are ongoing. In 2009, two similar incidents occured in Shuqra, near Aden, and in Abyan, that left more than 100 people dead.

The Ministry of Interior’s website confirmed that another boat carrying illegal immigrants sank near Lahj coast, 100km east of Aden, on the same day that the 46 immigrants travelled to Yemen.

Coast Guard Authority officials said that most illegal immigrants die during such dangerous trips. If they do not die during the trip, they arrive at their destination in bad health conditions that eventually causes chronic diseases.

The UNHCR has confirmed that there is at least 171,000 refugees in Yemen.