Seeking Riches and Relief From Arabs, Refugees Get Neither
ADEN, Yemen (AP) _ Somali refugees who made the perilous crossing to Yemen are tantalizingly close to oil-rich, labor-poor Saudi Arabia and the wealthy Gulf sheikdoms, but a political feud has left them marooned in squalid refugee camps.
″Why are the Arabs so indifferent? They’re doing nothing to help us,″ said Haj Jilani Mouheidin, a refugee merchant from Mogadishu, the Somali capital. He spoke as he helped his sons erect a tent for their family.
″We’re Muslims ... so why have the Arabs abandoned us?″ he asked.
Somalis, most of whom are Muslim and whose nation is a member of the Arab League, may have been counting on the concept of Arab unity when they looked to their neighbors for help.
But the idea that Arabs from different countries share a sense of nationhood and can rely on each other for help - an ideology Arabs hear constantly at school and in the mosques - was severely strained when the Gulf War left the region divided.
″Everybody believed the Arabs would come to our aid and end our suffering. But nothing was done to stop the killings,″ said refugee Ismat Ahmed, an engineer from Mogadishu.
Somalis had hoped powerful Arabs would use their diplomatic clout to end the civil war ravaging their homeland. Arab League attempts to end the war have failed because the two main factions are unwilling to share power.
The Somalis are fleeing drought as well as war. The International Committee of the Red Cross has described Somalia as the world’s greatest humanitarian disaster.
In all, some 50,000 Somali refugees are in Yemen. About 3,300 arrived in a dramatic wave last week, when they were allowed ashore at Aden two days after forcing a ship captain to run aground 150 yards from the beach. Refugees said the cargo vessel left Mogadishu on June 5 for the 1,200-mile voyage to Aden.
On Saturday they were joined by 600 more refugees from a second vessel. Yemen had initially been reluctant to accept the boat people.
A French navy ship arrived in Aden on Wednesday carrying 30 tons of food, medicine and other supplies for the refugees.
A U.N. official said the supplies, from U.N. and French stores in the African nation of Djibouti, would be distributed throughout the Aden area.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees has sent food, tents and other supplies to the Somalis and is working with Yemeni officials to build a new refugee camp.
While Yemen is receiving help from international aid agencies and European countries, it is getting the cold shoulder from Arabs - apparently because of its support for Iraq during the Gulf crisis. Somalia was neutral, but Saudi Arabia joined the international army that forced Iraq from Kuwait.
Saudi Arabia punished Yemen in late 1990 by expelling 1 million Yemeni workers from the kingdom. That cut off around $2 billion a year in remittances and exacerbated already deep unemployment in Yemen.
Most of the Somalis who have taken refuge in Yemen in recent days speak little or no Arabic, although it is one of their nation’s official languages. But they believe the Arab world has an obligation to help them.
They say they don’t want to go back to Somalia and would rather settle in an Arab country where they expect shelter, security and prosperity.
A regional drought and general deprivation have left 4.5 million Somalis in need of food, and hundreds, possibly thousands, are dying every day from starvation, relief officials say.
Four months of vicious clan fighting in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, has killed and wounded more than 30,000 people. A U.N.-brokered cease-fire took effect in early March, but the conflict disrupted harvests and prevented the distribution of food.