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Yemen: civilians forced to flee escalating confrontations

19-08-2009 Interview

There are thousands of internally displaced people (IDPs) in Yemen, where the humanitarian situation has deteriorated over recent days owing to renewed fighting in Sa'ada and Amran governorates. The ICRC's head of delegation in Yemen, Jean-Nicolas Marti, describes what is happening to those who have been displaced.

   

   
 
  Jean-Nicolas Marti, head of delegation in Yemen.    
     What is the current situation in Sa'ada and other areas affected by the fighting in the north of Yemen?  

Armed confrontations have esc alated over the past two weeks and continue as we speak. As a result, thousands of people have fled the fighting to seek refuge in Sa'ada city and surrounding areas. In Amran (Harf Sufyan), too, hundreds of people have been displaced by the fighting; they are now scattered across the governorate. These internally displaced people (IDPs) have probably not been able to take many belongings with them, which is why we believe that they urgently need assistance. The ICRC does not as yet have accurate figures for the number of people displaced. Our access to the worst-affected areas is limited at present, but we will seize every possible opportunity to provide humanitarian assistance whenever the situation allows our staff to move safely.

   
   
 
The ICRC, working with the Yemeni Red Crescent Society, assists people affected by the fighting in the North of the country, particularly with medical care, basic relief items and clean water.

  Through its tracing services, the ICRC helps to restore contact between asylum seekers and refugees and their relatives back home; it enables Yemeni families to maintain ties with relatives held in detention abroad. The ICRC has visited two detainees who were brought to Yemen from Guantanamo Bay and hopes to resume visits to prisoners throughout Yemen.

  The ICRC promotes the knowledge of international humanitarian law, its integration into national law and its incorporation into the teaching and training programmes of schools and universities and the armed and police forces.

  The ICRC first worked in Yemen during the civil war in the 1960s. Currently, it has a total of 117 staff in the country: 20 international and 52 national staff based in Sana'a; as well as 5 international and 40 national staff in the sub-delegation in Sa'ada, in the North of Yemen    
     
 

 We heard that many people have fled their homes. What are their needs right now?  

 

The ICRC is very concerned about the fate of civilians affected by the fighting in Sa'ada and Amran governorates and surrounding areas. We call upon the parties to the fighting to take all measures necessary to spare their lives and property.

So far, thousands of families have reached Sa'ada city. They are looking for a safe place to stay. Their most important immediate needs are shelter, water, food and access to medical care. The ICRC, in close cooperation with the Yemen Red Crescent Society, has been managing several camps for displaced people over recent years in Sa'ada city. Several newly displaced families have moved into these camps. Basic medical supplies have been provided to some camps and to a Yemen Red Crescent clinic looking after the displaced, and water is delivered on a daily basis. We have also given 100 tents to the newcomers.

Given the high number of newly displaced people, we are also in the process of reopening a camp that was shut down last year in order to accommodate some 2,800 additional people. In the governorates of Amran and Hajjah, northwest of Sana'a, ICRC and Yemen Red Crescent staff are assessing the needs of the population. An emergency distribution of water and other essential items is planned for the coming days.

 The ICRC and the Yemen Red Crescent  manage camps for the displaced in Sa'ada governorate. Have you been able to reach them since last week?  

Access to the camps in Sa'ada city has not been a problem for the ICRC and the Yemen Red Crescent. However, we did face some problems trying to reach camps located outside the city.

 We heard that 15 Yemen Red Crescent  volunteers were kidnapped last week. Have your staff been facing any security problems?  

We are glad to say that the Red Crescent volunteers were released and are safe and sound. The situation in this region of Yemen is very volatile at present. Since nine foreigners were kidnapped two months ago and three of them were killed, the movements of the ICRC – especially of its international staff – in the region have been quite limited. The ICRC and the Yemen Red Crescent are taking every possible precaution to ensure that their staff can move safely. This includes reminding the parties to the armed clashes that they must respect humanitarian workers and ensure that those bearing the red crescent emblem are given safe passage to reach the victims of the fighting.

 What has the ICRC been doing for people affected by the fighting in the north over the last few years?  

The ICRC has been working in the north of Yemen since 2004. In cooperation with the Yemen Red Crescent, it has been helping people cope with the effects of the fighting. In addition to our other activities, we are currentl y providing clean water and essential household items for those worst affected, and support for several medical facilities, including those serving the camps for displaced people in Sa'ada city.