Internal displacement grows in Yemen

Briefing Notes, 9 March 2012

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 9 March 2012, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

Yemen is facing a new wave of internal displacement as tens of thousands of civilians flee tribal clashes in the north and renewed fighting between government troops and militant groups in the south.

The situation is particularly difficult in Haradh governorate north of the capital Sana'a where, according to Yemeni authorities, sporadic tribal clashes have displaced some 52,000 people over the past three months. This is in addition to the estimated 314,000 Yemenis already displaced in the north and unable to return to their homes in Sa'ada governorate.

Despite the peace agreement signed between the Yemeni government and Al-Houtis in June 2010, the situation in northern Yemen remains volatile. Insecurity hinders large-scale return and severely limits humanitarian access. We continue to run two camps for displaced Yemenis in the north and have been providing assistance to internally displaced people (IDPs) in the camps and in host communities.

Meanwhile, in the south, at least 1,800 people have been displaced in the last two weeks by the latest escalation in fighting between government troops and militants in Abyan governorate. The displaced from the town of Ja'ar now join more than 150,000 IDPs in the south. This includes virtually the entire populations of the towns of Zinjibar, Khanfar and Al-Kud, displaced since the beginning of the conflict last May. We estimate another 120,000 people are at risk of forced displacement.

Many residents of Ja'ar fled the approaching conflict. There were not enough places on local buses and consequently the price of renting vehicles has tripled. The journey to Aden, which normally a trip of just 30 minutes, has been taking more than five hours on difficult alternate roads in overloaded minibuses. More people are arriving daily.

Since last May most of the IDPs in the south have found shelter in Aden and in other towns and parts of Abyan where they have strong family and tribal links. Others took shelter in schools. Today 74 public schools in Aden shelter more than 20,000 IDPs.

Our operation in Yemen has assisted more than 80,000 IDPs in five southern governorates. We have also rehabilitated several vacant buildings to provide temporary shelter for some 2,000 IDPs, freeing up two schools for more than 3,000 students. Together with our partners we are positioning stocks and coordinating efforts to address the needs of the newly displaced. This biggest challenge remains shelter. Schools hosting IDPs in Aden are already filled to capacity and the host community cannot take more. With the recent arrivals there are now almost 20 people to a room in some schools. Some IDPs have only been able to find space in school grounds or in the halls.

In light of the increasing displacement and growing insecurity limiting movements of our staff both in the south and the north, UNHCR has set up local monitoring networks trained to recognize protection risks and urgent needs of IDPs to alert UNHCR and help ensure continued delivery of protection and assistance. UNHCR plans to double the number of networks this year.

As part of the UN country team, UNHCR is preparing a funding proposal for emergency response, addressing the deepening humanitarian crisis and new displacement in the north and south of Yemen. For 2012, UNHCR is seeking US$60 million to address the humanitarian needs of some 216,000 refugees and almost half a million IDPs in Yemen.

For further information on this topic, please contact:

  • In Aden, Edward Leposky on mobile +967 71 222 4022
  • In Geneva, Andrej Mahecic on mobile +41 79 200 7617
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Yemeni Province Starts Rebuilding as 100,000 Displaced Return

Life is slowly returning to normal in urban and rural areas of the southern Yemeni province of Abyan, where fighting between government forces and rebels caused major population displacements in 2011 and 2012.

But since last July, as hostilities subsided and security began to improve, more than 100,000 internally displaced people (IDP) have returned to their homes in the province, or governorate. Most spent more than a year in temporary shelters in neighbouring provinces such as Aden and Lahj.

Today, laughing children once more play without fear in the streets of towns like the Abyan capital, Zinjibar, and shops are reopening. But the damage caused by the conflict is visible in many areas and the IDPs have returned to find a lack of basic services and livelihood opportunities as well as lingering insecurity in some areas.

There is frustration about the devastation, which has also affected electricity and water supplies, but most returnees are hopeful about the future and believe reconstruction will soon follow. UNHCR has been providing life-saving assistance since the IDP crisis first began in 2011, and is now helping with the returns.

Amira Al Sharif, a Yemeni photojournalist, visited Abyan recently to document life for the returnees.

Yemeni Province Starts Rebuilding as 100,000 Displaced Return

Shelter for the Displaced in Yemen

The port city of Aden in southern Yemen has long been a destination for refugees, asylum-seekers and economic migrants after making the dangerous sea crossing from the Horn of Africa. Since May 2011, Aden also has been providing shelter to tens of thousands of Yemenis fleeing fighting between government forces and armed groups in neighbouring Abyan governorate.

Most of the 157,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) from Abyan have found shelter with friends and relatives, but some 20,000 have been staying in dozens of public schools and eight vacant public buildings. Conditions are crowded with several families living together in a single classroom.

Many IDPs expected their displacement would not be for long. They wish to return home, but cannot do so due to the fighting. Moreover, some are fearful of reprisals if they return to areas where many homes were destroyed or severely damaged in bombings.

UNHCR has provided emergency assistance, including blankets, plastic sheeting and wood stoves, to almost 70,000 IDPs from Abyan. Earlier this year, UNHCR rehabilitated two buildings, providing shelter for 2,000 people and allowing 3,000 children, IDPs and locals, to resume schooling in proper classrooms. UNHCR is advocating with the authorities for the conversion of additional public buildings into transitional shelters for the thousands of IDPs still living in schools.

Photographer Pepe Rubio Larrauri travelled to Aden in March 2012 to document the day-to-day lives of the displaced.

Shelter for the Displaced in Yemen

Yemeni humanitarian aid group wins 2011 Nansen Refugee Award

The founder and staff of the Society for Humanitarian Solidarity (SHS), a humanitarian organization in Yemen, has won the 2011 Nansen Refugee Award for their work in aiding and rescuing refugees and migrants who make the dangerous sea journey across the Gulf of Aden from the Horn of Africa. View a slideshow of the group's life-saving work, patrolling the beaches of southern Yemen for new arrivals and providing food, shelter and medical care to those who survive the dangerous journey.

Yemeni humanitarian aid group wins 2011 Nansen Refugee Award

Yemeni NGO wins Nansen AwardPlay video

Yemeni NGO wins Nansen Award

The Society for Humanitarian Solidarity wins the 2011 Nansen Refugee Award for helping tens of thousands of refugees and migrants who make the treacherous journey to Yemen on smugglers' boats.
Yemen: Waiting for peacePlay video

Yemen: Waiting for peace

The Yemeni government has declared the war in the north is over. But most of the roughly 280,000 people uprooted by the violence are reluctant to return home.
Yemen: Further DisplacementPlay video

Yemen: Further Displacement

In Yemen the fighting continues in the north. UNHCR reports that the numbers of families fleeing is mounting and camps for the displaced are becoming crowded.