Marina de Regt


Center for Migration and Refugee Studies

Author's Department

Center for Migration and Refugee Studies

Document Type

Research Article

Publication Title

Migration and Refugee Movements in the Middle East and North Africa

Publication Date



Regarding migration, Yemen is primarily known as a sending country. Large numbers of Yemenis have migrated abroad in different periods of Yemen’s history, and labour migration was one of the main sources of income since the oil boom in the 1970s. Since 1990, however, Yemen has turned into a receiving country. Not only were hundreds of thousands of Yemeni migrants expelled from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States after Iraq’s invasion in Kuwait in 1990, but the political changes that took place in the Horn of Africa, in particular in Ethiopia and Somalia, in the early 1990s led to the arrival of large numbers of migrants and refugees from that region. Exact numbers of migrants and refugees from the Horn of Africa residing in Yemen are unavailable, but estimations vary between tens and hundreds of thousands. In this paper I will describe the current situation regarding migration and population movements to and through Yemen, with a special focus on migrant domestic workers. Whereas the employment of migrant domestic workers in the economically more developed countries on the Arabian Peninsula is well-known, the fact that Yemen employs these workers, mainly migrant women employed in domestic work, surprises many. Yemeni women are reluctant to do paid domestic labour, and migrant and refugee women, particularly from the Horn of Africa, meet the demand. I will first give a short overview of Yemen’s overseas connections from the past to the present, as the country is often depicted as isolated and backward, statements that are based on little historic evidence. I will then describe the three main groups of women working as domestics in Yemen, namely Somali, Ethiopian and Asian women. In the last section I describe the practices of and the policies towards recruitment agencies, one of the main ways in which migrant women come to Yemen. The paper is based on post-doctoral research among migrant and refugee domestic workers in Yemen carried out between 2003 and 2006.

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