Yemen is not a country new to refugees. With its location as a gateway to the Arabian Peninsula, and immediately across the sea from war-torn Somalia, it is has become a refuge for many thousands. Some move on to the rest of the world, many choose to stay. The hospitality of the Yemeni people towards the refugees, despite Yemen’s own poverty and problems, may give food for thought in some more developed nations.
However, these internal Yemeni problems are now increasing rapidly, with the economy in tatters, and various rebel groups being fought by the government. The increase in fighting, in different parts of the country, has led to a new, and yet massively important, issue, that of Internally Displaced People (IDPs).
In recent days Yemeni IDPs have hit the news, with news of between 8,000 and 15,000 civilians fleeing fighting in the town of Huta, in the Shabwa governorate, in the south of the country. Huta is currently the centre of a government offensive against apparent al-Qaeda militants, around 100 of whom are currently besieged in the town. Yemeni troops, equipped with tanks, and armoured vehicles, are reported to still not be in the centre of the town.
The offensive seems to be in response to the attack on a pipeline carrying liquefied natural gas (LNG), described by an anonymous Yemeni official as a “lifeline for the region.”
Most of the residents have Huta have fled the town since the fighting started, on Sunday. Those left behind have no hope of getting out, the military has blocked all routes into, and out of, Huta. Those civilians still in Huta are now being used as human shields by the militants, according to a Yemeni security official. It is not much better for those that have escaped, troops fired on the vehicles of some of the residents, as they were fleeing, and 2 civilians were killed and 3 wounded.
What is especially disheartening is that there has been little in the way of humanitarian aid for these people, who, having left their homes and livelihoods behind, have nothing. The Yemeni security forces are now being equipped with American money, and this knowledge has angered many of the IDPs, who are wondering why they have yet to see any aid.
Adnan Mohammed Ali, escaped from Huta, and is now a refugee in Kharma, 3 kilometres away. “I am living with no shelter, like hundreds of other refugees, without any aid from the authorities or charities.”
A preliminary report from the Yemeni Red Crescent has said that the refugees are in need of food, blankets, and medical supplies.
The fighting in Shabwa is not the only creator of IDPs in Yemen, it is only the newest. Fighting in Saada, in the north of the country, has been ongoing, on and off, since 2004. This conflict, which pits the government forces against a different set of rebels, has created many thousands of IDPs, many still afraid to return to their homes, even months later.
There are some well-established camps here, three in the area around Haradh, in the Hajja governorate. These house about 20,000 refugees between them, in varying conditions. Two of the camps are run by the UNHCR, and it is these camps that face severe funding shortfalls, of 44%. Nabil Othman, the UNHCR deputy representative in Yemen, says that “in view of the funding shortfalls, it would be difficult to respond to the needs of the IDPs.”
This is in contrast to the camp which is run by the UAE Red Crescent Society. No shortfalls have been reported there, and the IDP tents are equipped with fans, and electricity.
The IDP camp in Khahran, 100 kilometres north of Amran City, has mostly refugees who fled from some of the fiercest fighting of the Saada war, in the Harf Sufyan district of Amran governorate. In the Khahran camp, aid delivery is hampered by insecurities and carjackings. There are also other issues, the camp’s supervisor saying that some IDPs have been waiting for medicine since June 2010. The camp itself needs to be restructured, as it is does not comply with international standards.
In Saada itself, at the heart of the Houthi rebellion, there are 6 IDP camps, housing a total of 10,500 civilians.
The issue of IDPs will often be overlooked in the corridors of power, where the decisions are made as to how the Yemeni government will press forward against the various insurrections it faces. It is imperative for them to not forget the civilians caught up in the crossfire, if anything, these civilians should be actively courted by the government, without their support, the government’s attempts to quash any rebellion, will come to nothing.
To its credit, Yemen still welcomes the refugees that arrive on its shores. It is unfortunate however, to say the least, that Yemen is now creating its own refugees.
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