The term Muwalladeen (m. sing. Muwallad; f. sing. Muwallada) refers to Yemenis whose families have historical links outside of Yemen, and who are in some cases of mixed origins (with a Yemeni father or grandfather and a non-Yemeni mother or grandmother). The term is often used in a derogatory way, and Muwalladeen have been the target of discriminatory practices for decades. They were, and still are, often denied citizenship rights, discriminated against in the labor market, socially stigmatized and sometimes lack access to education. Muwalladeen often deny their non-Yemeni roots in order to avoid stigmatization and exclusion. This is particularly so for those whose families have links with Africa; Muwalladeen of mixed Yemeni-African descent are more racialized than Muwalladeen of other backgrounds, such as those whose families have historical links with Asia or Europe.
This report examines the experiences and perceptions of stigmatization, discrimination and racialization of Muwalladeen of Yemeni-African descent, with particular attention to social, economic and security concerns in contemporary war-torn Yemen. The research comprises a desk study, interviews with key experts and 36 interviews with male and female Muwalladeen in Sana’a, Aden and Hadramawt. Additionally, two interviews were carried out with Muwalladeen based outside Yemen and a focus group was held with six male Yemenis of Somali descent in Amman, Jordan.
The study findings show that most Muwalladeen experience racialization and stigmatization at school and work, and in society more broadly. Yet, there are important differences between regions, with Muwalladeen in southern Yemen, particularly in Aden, being less stigmatized and discriminated against than those elsewhere, such as in Sana’a. Interestingly, many interviewees were of the opinion that the war has not exacerbated racialization and discrimination, arguing instead that all Yemenis have suffered from the war regardless of their (ethnic) background.
Yet, under the surface of this general statement, many interviewees shared experiences of discrimination, in the past and in the present. They often face obstacles obtaining legal documents because they must provide proof of their father’s birthplace in order to obtain identity cards and passports. Some interviewees mentioned that Muwalladeen lose their jobs more easily than other Yemenis. With regard to gender, interviewees stated that male Muwalladeen face greater discrimination because they are more active in the public domain, yet women also spoke about the difficulties of having to take up paid work due to the deteriorating economic situation and shared their experiences of racism. Leaving Yemen was regarded as a way to improve one’s life by both men and women. Younger people were found to embrace their Muwallad status more easily than older people.
In order to improve the situation of Muwalladeen in Yemen, this research proposes the following key recommendations:
For the International Community and Donor Organizations:
- Ensure minority representatives are included in future peace negotiations so any prospective peace or reconciliation agreement contains provisions guaranteeing their rights.
- Exert pressure on the internationally recognized government and de facto authorities regarding the protection of minority rights, including people of mixed origin, on issues such as the right of movement, the right to official documents and the cessation of discrimination against them.
- Allocate a portion of financial grants to support local Yemeni organizations that work for social equality and on combating racism, and for further research into minorities in Yemen, especially in light of the fact that groups such as the Muwalladeen are generally not organized at the community level.
For Civil Society Organizations:
- Design programs that target the Muwalladeen and the local community in order to remove cultural and psychological barriers that prevent their full integration into society such as public awareness campaigns that address biases and prejudice against Muwalladeen in public sentiments.
- Design programs aimed at providing psychological support to men and women of mixed origins to mitigate the effects of stigma and discrimination, and urge men and women of mixed origins to form organizations that can cooperate with other NGOs in providing psychological and legal support.
- Design social media campaigns celebrating people of mixed origin as an integral part of Yemeni society, making clear the principle of “purity” is a misconception.
For the Internationally Recognized Government and De Facto Authorities:
- Enact laws criminalizing racism in all its forms, along with regulations to ensure effective compliance and monitoring in all areas, especially on matters of employment and the issuing of identity cards and marriage certifications.
- Assist minorities with legal transactions and paperwork, especially in light of the instability in the country.
- Include instruction about diversity and racism at all levels of education (primary, secondary and university); this should include the rich history of migration to and from Yemen and its impact on the Yemeni society and population.
This report is part of a series of publications, produced by the Sana’a Center and funded by the Government of the Kingdom of Sweden, examining minority communities in Yemen.