In Yemen, the Al-Akhdam community, which literally translates into “the servants”, is a minority community and is regarded as an ‘untouchable’ outcast group. Tracing back to the 5th and 6th century of Yemini history, they are descendants of Christian African warriors. With the advent of Islam, Christian African warriors were defeated and subsequently exiled. Some of the African army that was left behind came to be collectively recognized as Al-Akhdam and they became an “untouchable” caste. However, there are several parallel popular beliefs in terms of this community’s origins.
The government data of 2004 puts their numbers at 153,133, but unofficial sources claim 500,000-3.5 million persons belong to this minority group. For centuries, this group has been the most marginalized in social, economic and political spheres. It has suffered perpetual discrimination and oppression in the hands of both state and non-state actors. The community has been isolated on the basis of work they are associated with. Some major problems affecting the community population are the lack of access to basic amenities like housing, employment, education and basic social services. This has a negative effect on the overall socio-economic status of the community, including their health conditions.
The Akhdam are deprived of access to electricity, water and proper sanitation, and 95% have no official ownership of land where they have built their compounds. They reside in isolated areas, away from other communities, where almost no basic facilities are available. Akhdam women are easy targets of violence and abuse. They are usually subject to hate-based attacks and sexual assaults, without any legal or social recourse.
With the strong arrangement of purity and pollution in terms of access to employment and conditions of work, this group is denied access to employment within the businesses of food production/distribution and hospitality. With practices of physical marginalisation and social exclusion from mainstream society, they are considered ‘dirty’ and are mostly found in cleaning jobs, begging, and collection of waste and plastic. This is especially common among women. Due to lack of access to education, they are not found much in the private sector. Child labour is common among this community, which adds to the vicious cycle of unemployment and lack of access to education.
Governments in Yemen have failed to recognise the discrimination and oppression faced by the Al-Akhdam community and the massive human-rights violations against them. There are no legislations that criminalize the practices of persecution, exclusion and discrimination against the A-lAkhdam, as a result of which these practices go unnoticed, unreported and unpunished. Despite the 1991 Constitution providing equality to all citizens, there are no indications of this law being extended to members of the Al-Akhdam community. Yemen also fail to abide by the basic principle of Universal Declaration of Human Rights and International Human Rights Conventions that it has ratified.
Courtesy Rights Expert Yemen
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