Yemen: Being Black Is No Joy for Somalians and Ethiopians


By Judith Spiegel

Somalilandsun – Many Africans from war-torn Somalia and Ethiopia seek their luck across the sea in Yemen. Luck they hardly find. Racism they do.

The black man on the bus, they pat him on the head and push him in the back. They make jokes about his pronunciation of the name of the market he is going to. He sits still, waiting for the humiliation to pass.

A Somali man gets beaten at the bus station because he allegedly stole something. He doesn’t fight back, but cries. Passersby look the other way.

Minutes later, a woman is ignored by the bus driver because he doesn’t want Africans onboard. She patiently waits for the next bus.

One only has to use public transport in Sana’a, Yemen’s capital city, for a day or two to realize that being black here is no joy. There are no official numbers, but Yemen is home to hundreds of thousands of African immigrants. Most come from Somalia, Ethiopia and Eritrea as refugees and non-refugees both.

“A cultural thing”

According to Fouad Alalwi, head of the Sawa’a Organization for Anti-Discrimination, “It is a cultural thing in this region to treat non-citizens who are poor like this. People think that they bring criminality, although this has never been proven.”

“They see them as a burden for society, and for Ethiopians there is also a historical explanation,” he adds.

The history Alawi refers to goes back to Christianity’s start, when the country was invaded a number of times by Ethiopians. They tried to Christianize the Yemeni population, but were eventually kicked out.

Yemenis became one of the first Muslims, though a large group of Ethiopians stayed behind and became slaves – a practice that may influence how some Yemenis perceive Ethiopians today.

Societal schizophrenia

The schizophrenic thing is that Yemen seems much more hospitable than other, much richer, countries in the region. Churches are accepted so long as they are not publicly visible.