Increasing number of Yemenis fleeing embattled north, UN agency reports

13 November 2009
Assistant High Commissioner for Refugees Janet Lim (second right) at Yemen's Al Mazrak camp

The United Nations refugee agency reported today that an increasing number of civilians are fleeing embattled Sa'ada province in northern Yemen as the fighting between Government troops and Al Houthi rebels rages on.

Those fleeing the violence, the latest round of which began in August, are seeking shelter in camps and with host families in the neighbouring southern provinces of Hajjah and Amran, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

“This new displacement puts increasing pressure on UNHCR’s attempts to alleviate the suffering of the people in need,” spokesperson Andrej Mahecic told reporters in Geneva.

UNHCR estimates that 175,000 people have been affected by the conflict in Yemen since 2004, including those displaced by the latest crisis.

Around 150 new families have been arriving daily at Al Mazrak camp in Hajjah province in recent days, compared with the 20 to 30 that were arriving daily in previous weeks. UNHCR warned that the camp has now exceeded its capacity with nearly 10,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) living there.

“The latest sudden influx is adding more pressure on an already dire situation, and overcrowding in the camp is becoming a major concern,” said Mr. Mahecic. “Three or four families now share a tent normally meant for one.”

During a visit to Al Mazrak camp yesterday, the agency’s Assistant High Commissioner for Operations Janet Lim met a number of families who are concerned about the approaching winter, as well as about overcrowding.

“We need to make life for IDPs in the camp as normal as possible, especially if they have to stay there for a longer time. There remains a lot to be done,” said Ms. Lim.

UNHCR said it is ready to assist local authorities and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in speeding up the construction of Al Mazrak II camp, which will be able to house up to 1,000 families and is expected to start receiving IDPs in the coming days.

Meanwhile, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) today urged all parties to ensure that children are protected from violence and that they receive the assistance they need.

“During the past three months, children affected by the conflict in the north have seen all their basic rights violated,” Sigrid Kaag, UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa, said in a statement.

“Lack of safe water, nutrition and hygiene is exerting a heavy toll on their health and well-being and threatening their very survival – a situation that will only get worse with the coming of winter,” she added.

Ms. Kaag also noted that fighting has now spilled into Saudi Arabia, reportedly causing 240 villages to be evacuated and more than 50 schools to be closed.


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