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Time Online: Somalis in Yemen: Intertwined Basket Cases

Author: Abigail Hauslohner
January 1, 2010

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Abigail Hauslohner of Time details the plight of Somali refugees in Yemen.

Nurta Mohamed Sheikh Maalim is still shocked that she's alive. Maalim remembers very little of how she washed up on Yemen's shores last month, but she does remember swimming for 30 minutes, exhausted and confused, through the shark-infested waters of the Arabian Sea after being dumped overboard by her Somali smugglers. Eight months pregnant at the time, alone and desperate for something better, Maalim says she risked her life to reach Yemen several months after her husband fled Somalia using the same route. Now squatting in the home of a Somali community leader in Bassatine - an African slum outside Yemen's southern port of Aden - she says her husband is probably dead, most likely never having made it to shore. She was nearing the end of her pregnancy when a Somali community leader took her in off the street a few weeks ago and she delivered the baby in a local clinic. She has eight other children who remain in Somalia with her mother. And as for what comes next: neither Maalim nor anyone around her can guess.

Maalim's case is hardly unique. Throughout recent history, Somalis have sought refuge in Yemen, a remote, impoverished country at the tip of the Arabian peninsula, less than 200 miles across a narrow sea. But despite Yemen's own dire situation, it continues to be flooded with Somali refugees seeking the safety, stability and economic opportunities that have long since vanished from their own failed state in the Horn of Africa. In fact, the number of African refugees in Yemen is steadily rising. According to the U.N.'s refugee agency UNHCR, 72,753 African refugees - mostly from Somalia - reached Yemen this year alone, compared to 50,091 in 2008; hundreds more perished en route, or are presumed missing. A growing number of Ethiopians and Eritreans are fleeing their own civil turmoil and political oppression as well, adding to the steady flight from Somalia.

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