UNHCR shocked by civilian deaths in Yemen

GENEVA -- UNHCR is alarmed by reports that dozens of people have been killed and wounded yesterday afternoon (Wednesday, 16 September 2009) in an air raid on Al Adi, in the Yemen's Amran Governerate.

UNHCR again strongly urges all parties to the conflict to ensure the safety and well being of the civilian population in conformity with international law and standards.

The latest media reports add urgency to the UN's repeated appeals for opening of humanitarian corridors in northern Yemen that would allow civilians to leave the conflict zone and enable humanitarian workers to deliver much needed aid to thousands of internally displaced people (IDPs) in this remote part of the country. This remains a top priority for UNHCR.

The humanitarian situation is most dramatic in the city of Sa'ada in northern Yemen which has been cut off from the rest of the world and inaccessible for more than a month. Civilians, including some 35,000 IDPs, in and around Sa'ada remain trapped by the fighting and are unable to reach safer parts of the country. They live in dire conditions facing extreme hardship as there has been no water and electricity in Sa'ada since 12 August and food reserves are running out.

In addition to emergency aid already shipped to Yemen, UNHCR has positioned tents, mattresses, blankets and other aid items for more than 2,000 people on the Saudi side of the border with Yemen. The UN refugee agency is ready to launch a cross border operation from Saudi Arabia to access and assist the IDPs scattered north of Sa'ada city, pending security clearances from both governments.

UNHCR also calls on the Saudi authorities to offer safe shelter and assistance to displaced Yemenis who may seek refuge across the border as they flee the heavy fighting in northern Yemen. UNHCR is poised to assist in these efforts.

An estimated 150,000 Yemenis have been affected by the fighting since 2004, including those displaced by the latest escalation.