UNHCR approves an internal loan to sustain its Yemen operation

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahecic to whom quoted text may be attributed at today's press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

Faced with an acute funding shortfall for its Yemen operation, UNHCR has approved an internal loan amounting to US$ 4.7 million in order to continue programmes for hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people (IDPs) in this country until mid-year. This step is an alternative to scaling down or suspending UNHCR's protection and assistance programmes which would have an adverse and irreversible impact on a civilian population forcibly displaced by seven months of conflict between the government and Al Houti movement in northern Yemen.

A weak donor response this year threatens our operational capacity and protection efforts to register and document some 250,000 IDPs, to monitor their situation and to address their humanitarian needs - giving special attention to those most vulnerable - namely children, women and elderly.

The funds are also urgently needed to expand the existing, already overpopulated IDP camps at Al Mazrak and to build new ones in the north of the country, to organize and provide shelter materials, namely tents and plastic sheeting as well as to provide the basic relief items such as blankets, mattresses, hygienic kits, etc.

To date, we have received fewer than ten per cent of the needed funds. UNHCR's part of the 2010 UN consolidated appeal for Yemen amounts to US$ 39 million.

Meanwhile, displaced Yemeni civilians in Al Mazrak camps in Hajjah province remain hopeful but cautious about the first holding cease-fire and their readiness to return immediately. The general sentiment is similar in Amran and Sa'ada governorates. So far, movements have been limited to individual family members assessing the situation on behalf of the entire households.

Initial sketchy reports from IDPs confirm considerable difficulties in moving through parts of Sa'ada province which had been affected by the fighting. Some roads are still blocked and there are unmarked areas littered with mines and unexploded ordnance. A report of one casualty of an IDP due to a mine explosion has further strengthened fears among IDPs regarding the safety of return.

Mines and unexploded ordnance pose a serious risk for returning refugees and IDPs worldwide. We again urge caution to prevent any further and unnecessary loss of civilian lives in Yemen. Removal of mines and unexploded ammunition and the resumption of basic services are priorities before any massive return can take place. UNHCR is poised to assist the voluntary and safe return process.