The Al-Akhdam community is a minority group, which is regarded as an “untouchable” outcaste group in Yemen. For centuries the Al-Akhdam has suffered perpetual discrimination, persecution, and social exclusion from mainstream society. They are at the bottom of the social and economic hierarchy when it comes to access to employment and conditions of work, and they are forced to live isolated from the remaining society. The term “Al-Akhdam” literally translates as “the servants” and is figuratively suggestive of “people held in contempt and servitude” in Yemen.
The total figure of this population is unknown, and there are large inconsistencies between official and unofficial numbers. The government census of 2004 stated that the number is 153.133, but other sources claim that between 500.000-3.5 mio. persons belong to this minority group. Although they are commonly known as Al-Akhdam – the servants, they prefer to be known as Al Muhamasheen – the marginalized ones.
Some of the most critical problems affecting the Akhdam population is the lack of access to adequate housing, employment, education, and basic social services. This has a negative effect on other living conditions, including health conditions. The Al-Akhdam earn their living by performing dirty jobs such as sweeping, collecting plastics, or begging – the latter being especially common for women. The level of child labour is extensive and adds to a vicious cycle of school dropouts and limitations in access to employment due to lack of basic education. Moreover, many Al-Akhdam children suffer from serious diseases such as dyspnoea, malaria, and polio, and the death rate is high.
The UN treaty bodies have on various occassions expressed grave concern about the persistance of descent-based discrimination against the Al-Akhdam community in Yemen. UN bodies have recommended the Government of Yemen to, among other things, take measures to combat de facto discrimination discrimination against the Al-Akhdam in accordance with the CERD General Recommendation 29 on descent, and to adopt a national action plan to address the issue.
IDSN has created an extensive database on caste-based discrimination.
Reports and IDSN input
- Joint UPR submission by IDSN and All Youth Network (2013)
- IDSN Briefing Note (2013)
- Alternative report on Civil and Political Rights of Al-Akhdam in Yemen submitted by All Youth Network for Social Development and IDSN (2012)
- ESCR alternative report submitted by the All Youth Network for Social Development in association with IDSN (2011)
- CERD shadow report on the situation of the Al-Akhdam people prepared by Alternative World/Partnership for Equal Development in association with IDSN (2006)
- BBC News – In pictures: Yemen’s Lowest of the Low (BBC, 2012)
- Yemen’s Untouchable’s Doubtful of Change (Al Jazeera, 2012)
- Akhdam Community angered at Government Neglect (Irin News, 2012)
- YEMEN: Girls, poor and black people most discriminated against – study (Irin News, 2009)
- Languishing at the bottom of Yemen’s ladder (New York Times, 2008)
- In slums without hope, Yemen’s untouchables (New York Times, 2008)
- YEMEN: Akhdam people suffer history of discrimination (Irin News, 2005)
Videos – Caste Discrimination in Yemen
Below are a selection of videos dealing with caste discrimination in Yemen. Visit IDSNs YouTube Channel for more videos on other countries/themes.