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|Akhdam: Centuries Pass But Bad Situation Staying the Same|
Abdul Rahim Al-Showthabi
Article Date: June 23, 2008
Centuries have passed and years have elapsed while Akhdam, people of African origin, still live in tin houses and places which are neither clean, nor appropriate for human beings to live in.
Akhdam lead miserable lives as they live in places where electricity, water, and sanitation are not provided. Families, as large as 10 members, live in one room; children live in what seems to be dirt, pools of disease-laden water, and piles of garbage and human waste.
Today, the most common job for male Akhdam is street cleaning, shoemaking, while women and children beg.
Akhdam are ranked at the very bottom of Yemen's social ladder. They have no access to jobs in private and public sectors. They can only find governmental work as street cleaners. They are not hired as fixed employees, but work on day-payment contract.
Among the stories dealing with Akhdam comes the one that speak of Akhdam as being the descents of Ethiopian soldiers who invaded Yemen earlier to the advent of Islam early in the 6th century.
The soldiers, from ancient Ethiopia, were so hated by people that they were forced to accept the worst jobs.
For this reason, and the continuous violations against the Akhdams rights, lawyer Mohamed Ali Allaw, Head of the National Union for the Development of Poor People filed a lawsuit against the Prime Minister accusing the government of discrimination against Akhdam.
The lawsuit indicated that Akhdam are being denied their rights as the government doesn't hire them officially, assuring that they have been working in the sanitation sector for over a decade and they still do not have an official working contract from the government.
Allaw, the head of Al-Maunah (assistance) for Human Rights and Migration, considers Akhdam's case important because it urgently needs a solution. He added that Yemen signed international agreements that ban racial discrimination in public jobs.
Allaw maintains that the government doesn't pay attention to such marginalized factions of society and always procrastinates Akhdam's case, pointing that Akhdam rarely get access to long-term employment contracts although they have been working for the government as streets cleaners for 15 years.
"Workers in the civil service sector in Yemen must be given contracts six months after the beginning of their work," he pointed out.
Akhdam are poorly educated and some children are not allowed by their parents to go to school as they feel that their children's task is to beg in streets and markets.
"Children don't go to school because they have to find something to eat first," said a father of three daughters and two sons, Mohamed Abdu Ali, a street sweeper in the capital.
Dr. Abdul Baqi Shamsan, professor of sociology at Thamar University said that the category of so-called Akhdam suffer from a historic and modern marginalization, stressing that Akhdam suffers from severe social disadvantages as they occupy the bottom of a social hierarchy among the Yemeni society.
Shamsan adds that some groups ascended to higher social rank under the process of modernization and development; however, others stayed as they were as in the case with the Akhdam who occupy the lowest social rank.
Yemen Post sent Human Rights Minister Dr. Huda Ali Al-Ban a group of questions to comment on through fax at the request of her office manager; however, no reply was received from her.
Professor of International Law at Sana'a University Mohammed Al-Mikhlafi hinted that the name 'Akhdam' in itself signifies discrimination, adding this faction is found to be disliked and marginalized for centuries.
He went on to say the existence of a law that advocates equality among citizens could not prevent Akhdam from being discriminated against.
Head of the National Union the Development of Poor People Noman Mohamed Qaid mentions that 99 percent of the sanitation workers are from Akhdam and 95 percent of them receive daily pay not monthly, assuring that the government neither hires them completely nor gives them contracts in order to ensure that they get their rights in full.
Qaid continued that that this sector's laborers are deprived of rights guaranteed under law, including weekly, annual holidays, health insurance, living and housing rights.
He revealed that the faction of Akhdam was historically dismissed after the overthrow of king Najah of Bani Najah State, assuring that marginalization was constant from that time until today.
As for joining public or private school, Qaid noted that Akhdam can not send their children to schools because of their deteriorating and bad economic situation as well as the discrimination and racial prejudice practiced against them. "Teachers order students to clean classes; however, students declare it is Akhdam's tasks. Akhdam is the buzzing word in their mouths," he added.
Unfortunately, civil society organizations do not make efforts to defend the rights of this faction. Also, some people believe that the rights of this category are more vulnerable to be violated. The lack of confidence among Akhdam themselves prompt them to keep aloof and this makes solving their problems very hard.While there is no official record of the number of Akhdam in Yemen, they are considered to be the country's largest and poorest minority. Unlike other people in Yemen, Akhdam do not belong to a tribe. They are poorly educated and are not allowed to mix or marry from other social classes.