Humanitarian situation in Yemen ‘tense and volatile,’ says UN agency

29 September 2009
Spontaneous IDP settlements in the al-Mazrak area of Hajja Governorate, northern Yemen

The situation in northern Yemen, where Government forces have been fighting rebels, remains “tense and volatile,” the United Nations refugee agency reported today, noting that civilians are unable to leave Sa'ada and there is still no humanitarian access to the embattled city.

Andrej Mahecic, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said a fragile calm was reported over the weekend in the city, which has been virtually cut off from the rest of the world for more than six weeks.

“Local residents and displaced people, caught up in the fighting between the Government troops and Al Houthi forces, continue to face a dire humanitarian situation, unable to leave the embattled city to seek safety and shelter elsewhere,” he said.

Although there is still no access to the city, UNHCR managed to distribute some assistance through a local non-governmental organization (NGO) partner.

There is very little information on the situation of the internally displaced persons (IDPs) in northern Yemen, which raises concerns about their safety, said Mr. Mahecic.

He voiced concern about recent reports of clashes close to Al Sam camp, one of three remaining IDP camps in Sa'ada province. “People in the camp are worried as residents of a nearby village of Al Aqad, half a kilometre away, had been reportedly alerted by the authorities to vacate the area.”

UNHCR has also received “sketchy but worrying” reports of an attack on a makeshift IDP settlement in Al-Azqool, also in Sa'ada province.

Meanwhile, the Al Mazraq camp in neighbouring Hajjah province continues to grow and is now sheltering some 7,000 IDPs. The camp has passed its planned capacity as more people are arriving from Sa'ada province. A new site has been identified in cooperation with Yemeni authorities and work to set up a new camp will start immediately, Mr. Mahecic said, adding that more camps will also be set up in Amran province.

UNHCR also said it received a formal agreement from authorities in neighbouring Saudi Arabia to carry out a cross-border operation to support the displaced population in northern Yemen, and the agency has positioned tents, mattresses, blankets and other aid items for more than 2,000 people on the Saudi side of the border.

Mr. Mahecic added that the UNHCR operation in Yemen is still short by some $2 million. “Timely contributions would allow UNHCR to organize management of the camps, expand registration and protection of IDPs and provide tents and other humanitarian assistance until the end of the year,” he noted.

Yesterday, Yemeni Foreign Minister Abubakr Al-Qirbi told the General Assembly’s high-level debate that the displacement of thousands of people in Sa’ada was the result of the Government’s need to fight “saboteurs” or subversive groups that exploited religious doctrines to gain support for their causes.

He said his Government was dealing responsibly with the situation and had provided camps and other measures to help meet the needs of the IDPs, and was trying to open corridors to reach refugees with aid, but had been restricted by the actions of the rebels.


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