Internal displacement in Yemen passes 250,000 mark

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahecic to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 29 January 2010, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

The humanitarian crisis in Yemen is deepening and we now estimate that 250,000 civilians have been displaced since the country's internal conflict flared in 2004. This represents a more than doubling of the number displaced as of August 2009 when the latest round of fighting erupted.

Over the past six weeks we have been witnessing a steady influx of around 1,000 families (some 7,000 people) arriving to Hajjah province each week. These people mainly originate from Sa'ada province which is bearing the brunt of the conflict between government troops and Al Houti forces.

The fighting has gradually moved from Sa'ada city and its surroundings towards the north-west. This is reflected in the composition of the IDP population as the first arrivals were mostly from Sa'ada city area and Al-Dhaher, while over the past weeks the majority of people have come from Razeh, Ghamr and Saqayn districts. Another push factor is the collapse of coping mechanisms - people simply cannot sustain themselves any longer in Sa'ada province.

Despite three existing IDP camps in Hajjah governorate which are continually being expanded, the lack of adequate shelter is a major concern for UNHCR. Many displaced Yemenis are in makeshift sites which have mushroomed along the roads leading to the camps. The situation is equally difficult in Amran province where the vast majority of IDPs is either staying with relatives and friends or renting accommodation. UNHCR and its partners are providing tents to displaced families in host communities to increase living space within housing compounds. To alleviate the situation UNHCR is working on setting up a transit centre pending the identification of suitable site for a camp.

The Yemeni government, UNHCR and other aid agencies are distributing aid, but making ends meet is getting increasingly difficult for the displaced population as well as access to basic services such as health and education. Most of them fled leaving behind almost all of their belongings and cattle which was the pillar of their livelihoods and primary source of income.

Continuous fighting in the north has also resulted in an increased number of IDPs reaching the capital Sana'a seeking safety and assistance. So far some 12,000 displaced have been registered there. UNHCR, together with the government and other agencies, is continuing the distribution of food and other relief items.

Meanwhile, five UNHCR trucks - loaded with tents, mattresses, blankets, kitchen sets and hygienic items for some 2000 people - are scheduled to cross from Saudi Arabia into northern Yemen sometime tomorrow (Saturday, 30 January). This is the third such convoy. There are some 10,000 Yemenis sheltering at the makeshift site in Mandaba area where assistance is being provided by the governments and several aid agencies.

UNHCR is calling on donor countries to continue their support to our operation in Yemen to be able to cope with the situation and to provide much needed assistance. Our total needs for protection and assistance programmes in Yemen this year amount to USD 35 million, out of which USD 16 million are for the IDP programmes operations and the rest for the refugee operations.