Aden’s marginalized people: The black belt of Aden (part 2)

Published on 17 March 2012 in Report
Muaad Al-Maqtari (author), Muaad Al-Maqtari (photographer)

Muaad Al-Maqtari


Muaad Al-Maqtari

Ali Nasser Mohammad

Ali Nasser Mohammad

In the streets and public markets of Aden, pale brown faces largely dominate the human activity. The open city of Aden is located between two seas and an ocean, and appears as a large exhibition of all black-skinned mankind.

Aden includes a large number of Somali refugees, black-skinned people known among civil society organizations as marginalized people, and among Yemeni tribesmen as ‘Akhdam’ (in Arabic, literally ‘servant’). Other brown faces in Aden or elsewhere in Yemen do not necessarily belong to this class.

About 120,000 black-skinned people live in Aden according to Al-Amal Development Association, a local NGO that is active in addressing the issues of marginalized people in Aden.

They inhabit shabby houses in roughly 20 scattered community groups amongst Aden’s seven districts, forming a black human belt surrounding the middle of the black city.

A large proportion of this population is centered in the two districts of Dar Saad and Al-Sheikh Othman, which combined host about 70,000 marginalized people, according to the association.

In the two districts, the marginalized population are distributed between nine residential compounds, in homes made of planks, cardboard and zinc.

One residential community in Al-Sheikh Othman, known as Sisban Mahwa, started twenty years ago and has a population of about 15,000 people. The same number exists at Al-Mahreeq Mahwa in the same district.

The other four communities of Al-Sheikh Othman’s black skinned people are Kood Al-Othmani, Kood Baihan, Al-Mimdarah and Abdul-Qawi, with a combined population of around 15,000 people.

In Dar Saad district, there are three large communities including Al-Basateen, where the houses of Yemeni black-skinned people are interconnected with the Somali refugee population. The population in Al-Basateen, in addition to Al-BaIn Al-Sharqia and Al-Damina of Dar Saad is about 40,000 people.

In the districts of Al-Mansoura and Al-Buraikah there are middle-sized communities including Al-Farisi, Al-Hufra, Salah Al-Deen (Al-Dowiabah) and Kibal Airis. The total population in these four communities is about 20,000. The same number also live in the Castro slums, Al-Sheikh Eshaq, Hafat Al-Raml and Jabal Qawareer.

The ‘bidoon’ of Number Six residential area

If anybody loses his makeshift house in any of the slums of Aden’s 20 marginalized communities, they may end up at Number Six residential area. Gaining an identity card or a birth certificate for a child there is impossible. All the tragedies experienced by the marginalized people are exacerbated in this residential area of Aden.

The Number Six residential area forms a crowded section of the black belt, laying exactly between Daar Saad and Sheikh Othman. It has a population of 10,000 people who live on the bottom rung of the marginalized ladder.

Many of the houses in the Number Six area are only made from cardboard to protect occupants from the sun. The houses cannot standup against small floods or strong winds. The area has no access to water, sanitation or electricity, and the lack of a sewage system means the air is filled with a pungent unhealthy smell.

The city of Aden has been a modern civilized city for over a century, and the possession of an ID card is one of life’s necessities. But for those who have been displaced to the Number Six area, it is desperate struggle to obtain one. This issue has been taken up by some human rights activists.

Number Six is the English name coined after the colonization of Aden by the British. During the British occupation, this area located at an entrance to the city, was used as quarantine point for all arrivals coming from the north or the southern protectorates.

Ali Nasser Mohammad, 65, came from Tehama on Yemen’s western coast. He arrived in Aden during the British occupation to find work as a cleaner. He said he was quarantined at this and was sprayed with the insecticide DDT.

Mohammad said the DDT spray was to kill lice and bugs that were on their skin and inside their clothes. He said he was one of many that were escaping the hunger, poverty and illness imposed by imams and sultans on their hopeless villages.

“We entered Aden after we were disinfected and cleaned,” he recollected. “On Saturdays we would receive bonuses in addition to our salaries, so we lived there as princes.”

The Number Six area with its population of 10,000 has turned into a community of people who are called ‘bidoon’, people who are banned from obtaining identity cards and birth certificates for their children.

Salah Dabwan, director of the Popular Neighborhoods Association, affirmed that 70 percent of Aden’s black-skinned people have been denied their right to have an ID card.

“And for the community of black-skinned people who live in Number Six,  Yemen’s Civil Status Authority in Aden has denied this right publicly,” Dabwan said.

Ahmed Al-Harazi, deputy director of the Civil Status Authority, denied the claims of the association. He said: “Any Yemeni citizen can get the ID card easily, and there are not any difficulties for anyone to obtain the card.”

“For marginalized groups coming from the Horn of Africa, we can’t grant them ID cards since they are refugees and not Yemenis,” said Al-Harazi.

For marginalized people to get an ID card or a birth certificate for their children, he or she is required to bring a document of house ownership, as well as bills for water and electricity to the authorities.

Adel Faraj, a human rights activist, in collaboration with other activists in this population have organized several campaigns that demand the granting of birth certificates to the children of marginalized people.

“The new culture that prevailed in Aden after reunification made the obtaining of an ID card dependent on recommendations by the community leaders of the zones,” he said. “These chiefs who came from the north of Yemen have installed a culture of disrespect against this group.”

He explained that those community leaders have supported the marginalized people’s right to have election cards, but not identity cards, so that they can utilize the black-skinned people’s vote during elections.

“There are Somali refugees who can obtain identity cards, but those who are labeled ‘Akhdam’ cannot get them, despite the fact that they are Yemenis,” Faraj said.

He added that the Civil Status Authority has deliberately deprived the marginalized people from Number Six area from gaining identity cards.