Refugees turn to prostitution

2010-02-11 08:23

Aden - Somali refugee Saada hates what she does but can see no other way to feed her six children - working as a prostitute in the southern Yemeni city of Aden.

"My life is rubbish, but what can I do? I have to work and make some money," said the woman in her 30s, sitting with other Somali women in Aden's Basateen slum district.

Like many others, Saada fled to Yemen to escape the chaos, clan warfare and famine that has plagued Somalia since warlords toppled President Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991 - only to face another struggle for survival in impoverished Yemen.

She has spent 10 months in Yemen living on UN handouts and turned to prostitution eight weeks ago to send money to the relatives at home who are looking after her children.

Saada gets no money from her first husband, who divorced her and went to work in Saudi Arabia. Her second husband was badly wounded in fighting in the anarchic Somali capital Mogadishu.

"So now I am on my own," she said.


Yemen hosts 171 000 registered refugees, mostly Somalis, according to UNHCR figures for December, up from 140 300 a year earlier. Many more unregistered Somalis are thought to roam there, most of them hoping to move to richer Gulf countries.

The UN refugee agency UNHCR helps Somalis on arrival, but many in Basateen say they struggle to make ends meet.

Alysia, another divorced Somali woman driven into prostitution, said she had paid smugglers to take her on the perilous voyage across the Gulf of Aden to Yemen. "I have to take care of my son. I have to buy him milk," she said.

The port city of Aden has a more freewheeling atmosphere than elsewhere in Yemen, a conservative Muslim society.

While alcohol is hard to come by in the capital Sana'a, a few restaurants and beach clubs serve drinks in Aden, luring some weekend tourists from austere Gulf states such as Saudi Arabia.

In Aden's Tawahi seaside district, prostitutes work in cheap hotels or clubs which have adjacent "motels".


"The main reason for prostitution is poverty, the unemployment of refugees," said Alawiya Omar at the Italian aid organisation Intersource, which is working in Basateen, home to about 40 000 Somalis and Yemenis with Somali ties.

Together with UNHCR, the group helps victims of domestic and sexual violence and tries to educate refugees about the dangers of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.

"Awareness of the dangers of getting infections is not high," said Halima, a Somali woman who helps provide health care for prostitutes and advises them about safer sex.

"There are courses for the women, but many don't bother to show up even if they get some money or free food on that day," she said, sitting in a makeshift house where she lives with her husband, other families and some livestock - all crammed together with flies buzzing around.

"My life is a mess. Sometimes men don't pay me. I would do anything else but what?" asked Najma, 34, another Somali sex worker.

Read more on:    unhcr  |  somalia  |  yemen


Read News24’s Comments Policy

Inside News24


US biker deaths down: What's the secret?

Motorcycle deaths are on track to decline for a second year in the US thanks to a so far - on bikes - little-used road safety accessory.


Stay safe

US biker deaths down: What's the secret?
Pro's and con's of accredited driver-training
Juvenile pillion riders? Play safe...
Need a family ride? SA's top Mommy Cars

It is crucial to look twice before signing anything important right now. While Mercury is in retrograde strange things can happen, more

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.