Thousands continue to flee fighting in Yemen

Friday, December 11, 2009

The United Nations refugee agency reports thousands of civilians continue to flee their homes in northern Yemen as fighting between government troops and Al Houti rebel forces enters a fifth month. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says the situation in the Saada province remains particularly tense as more people arrive there.

The city of Sa'dah, 1986.
Image: Bernard Gagnon.

The U.N. refugee agency reports clashes have broken out in a number of districts in the Saada province as more people arrive. It says the situation in the Razeh district is particularly serious.

The UNHCR says the civilian population there faces restrictions of movement and lacks basic services such as electricity and water. It says shortages of food and other commodities are pushing prices up sharply and an increasing number of people cannot afford to buy what they need.

U.N. refugee spokesman Andrej Mahecic says the influx of huge numbers of people in neighboring Hajjah and Amran provinces is putting a strain on shelter and aid.

There are now some 21,000 IDPs living in a camp initially designed to shelter up to 10,000 people

—Andrej Mahecic

"Over the past month alone, the IDP [internally displaced people] population of al-Mazrak One camp in Hajjah governorate has doubled. There are now some 21,000 IDPs living in a camp initially designed to shelter up to 10,000 people and overcrowding is presently the top concern for us," he said. "At least some 500 families in al-Mazrak camp are sharing their tents, normally meant for one family, with one or two other households. We estimate another 1,300 families who are accommodated in 48 large communal tents in four transit areas of the camp, are presently waiting for allocation of a family tent."

The UNHCR reports overcrowding in the camp is hampering delivery of humanitarian services. The agency says it reached an agreement with Yemeni authorities this week to build a third camp. And, plans are underway to set up a camp that would potentially house some 7,000 people.

Mahecic says the number of IDPs settling with local populations outside the camps has increased as well. He says local communities are bearing the brunt of the continuing displacement in Yemen. He says aid agencies are looking at ways they can assist host families.

The U.N. refugee agency reports an estimated 175,000 people have been affected by the conflict in Yemen since 2004, including those displaced by the latest crisis.