Clashes in southern Yemen spark new displacement

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 24 September 2010, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR is closely following developments in Yemen's south-east Shabwa governorate where this week's fighting between government forces and militants has forced civilians to flee the area. We are concerned about the security and safety of the population affected by the current conflict in Mayfar district and hope that all measures have been taken to prevent casualties among civilians.

Our estimate is that the on-going clashes - which flared up on Sunday - have so far forced at least some 4,000 Yemeni civilians to leave their homes in Al-Hawtah village and surrounding settlements, some 400 kilometers east of Aden. Reports indicate that displacement continues to grow. Most of the displaced have sought safety and shelter in the neighbouring villages of Al-Azzem, and Al-Kharamah. UNHCR's reception centre in Mayfa'a, where new arrivals from the Horn of Africa are registered and temporarily sheltered, is some 30 kilometeres away.

UNHCR's local NGO partner managed to reach Al-Azzem village on Tuesday and reported that displaced people are sheltering with host families. According to initial reports, some of the displaced are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance - primarily food, shelter and medical supplies. The local authorities have opened the village school, which is now accommodating some 60 displaced people.

As part of the UN team in Yemen, UNHCR remains in close contact with the authorities - which have already begun distributing aid - as well as in coordination with other humanitarian partners on ground. A rapid UN assessment mission is scheduled for today (Friday) that should allow the UN in Yemen to establish more accurately the size of displacement and immediate needs. UNHCR and other UN agencies are pre-positioning assistance for some 300 families (i.e. 2,100 people - average family size is seven) in the Mafya'a reception centre.

We are poised to scale up our assistance should that become necessary. We have considerable resources in the country due to the continuing refugee flow from the Horn of Africa and internal displacement caused by the last year's conflict in the north of the country.

Some 168,000 Somali refugees have been registered by UNHCR in Yemen. In addition, more than 304,000 Yemeni civilians continue to live in displacement following the seven-month conflict in northern Yemen which ended in February this year.