Desperate Somalis Turn to Prostitution in Yemen

Many Somali refugees have fled clan warfare and famine back home and are struggling to survive in Yemen, according to the UN. There are 171,000 registered refugees in the country, mostly Somalis, an increase from 140,300 the previous year, according to the UN's refugee agency. Many more Somali refugees are unregistered, including sex workers.

Compared with the rest of Yemen, the southern city of Aden is more freewheeling. Alcohol is served at a few restaurants and beach clubs, and prostitutes work in cheap hotels and clubs in Aden's seaside Tawahi district.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) helps Somalis who have made it to Yemen, but many interviewed in Aden's Basateen slum district said they struggle financially.

"My life is rubbish, but what can I do?" said a mid-30s refugee and mother of six. She lives on UN donations and recently began sex work so she can send money to the relatives taking care of her children. "I have to work and make some money."

Another woman forced to turn to sex work paid smugglers to take her across the Gulf of Aden to Yemen. "I have to take care of my son," she said. "I have to buy him milk."

"The main reason for prostitution is poverty, the unemployment of refugees," said Alawiya Omar, who works in Basateen for the Italian aid organization Intersource. With UNHCR, Intersource assists women survivors of domestic abuse and sexual assault and provides education about STDs and HIV.

"Awareness of the dangers of getting infections is not high," said Halima, a Somali health care provider who teaches sex workers how to avoid infections. "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."