Shelter shortages emerging as major concern for Yemen's displaced

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 17 April 2015, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

With worsening displacement, a deepening conflict, and difficult access for aid workers and aid delivery, shelter is emerging as one of the pressing humanitarian needs in Yemen.

The number of civilians displaced by the escalation of violence in the last few weeks is provisionally estimated at between 120,000 and 150,000 people. It's feared this figure could rise significantly if violence continues. This is in addition to the 300,000 plus Yemenis already displaced by previous violence, many of whom - including the residents of an IDP camp in Mazraq that was subject to airstrikes - have had to flee for a second time. Many of the country's 250,000 refugees are also affected.

A recent inter-agency assessment to the western province of Hajjah, which hosts an estimated 60,000 internally displaced Yemenis, found that shelter support was one of the three greatest needs (alongside food, and clean water and sanitation).

103 out of the 111 people that assessment teams contacted in the Hajjah area (including displaced people, host community members, health workers, women, shop keepers and local leaders) said access to adequate shelter was a serious problem and many people did not have a decent place to live. Over half this group is living in shelters made from scavenged wood, tin or other discarded items. In Mustaba everyone we spoke to was living in this kind of makeshift home. Elsewhere, people are living in tents, with relatives, or in public buildings. In several locations people are living in the open and have no shelter at all. Many told us their homes were uninhabitable, damaged by airstrikes. Some were living in their damaged homes.

The UN's joint agency Flash Appeal for Yemen launched today is seeking US$25.4 million for improving shelter and delivering relief items for 250,000 people - part of a larger inter-agency appeal across all sectors for the next three months.

Across Yemen, the security situation continues to deteriorate with 18 out of 22 governorates now affected. Airstrikes and shelling in Sa'ada this week have destroyed banks, government and community infrastructure, the post office, and homes. They continued last night, damaging more services, gas stations and homes, and leading to the closure of hotels, shops and an overcrowded hospital. A UNHCR partner managing one of our community centres for internally displaced people issued a distress call in recent days for help to treat injured men, women and children and to relocate as many as possible. The scarcity of food, water and fuel is triggering more displacement as well as ongoing violence.

Our colleagues in Sana'a report an increasingly distraught population - many have lost family members to air strikes or conflict. Even getting sleep in the city is difficult due to the relentless airstrikes that pound the cities by night as well as day. The price of food has doubled, fuel prices are soaring and electricity supply has dwindled to almost nothing. People were getting used to two-to-four hours of electricity a day; now there is no electricity at all.

Despite the volatile situation, UNHCR and its partners are providing a number of services in Sana'a as well as in Aden and in the Kharaz refugee camp. This includes medical care to vulnerable refugees and asylum seekers. We also provide social counselling and legal aid through our partners, and operate a number of around-the-clock telephone hotlines to answer questions from refugees and asylum seekers, handle requests for aid, refer people to services, provide protection counselling and organize renewal of expired asylum-seeker and refugee certificates.

Refugee outflows from Yemen

Meanwhile, people continue to flee Yemen by boat for the Horn of Africa. Some 2,029 people have now arrived in Djibouti and Somalia's Somaliland and Puntland, mostly by boat, over the past few weeks.

Of these, 431 people have arrived in Djibouti and claimed asylum including 408 Yemenis, 3 Syrians, 11 Somalis, 4 Eritreans, and 5 Palestinians. They are mostly being cared for by local authorities, UNHCR and partners in either the Al-Rahma transit centre or a sports hall where they undergo medical check-ups and receive vaccinations. Health care is also available in Obock, with serious cases referred to hospital. Refugees are expected to move to the new Markazi refugee camp shortly, where 80 tents have now been pitched, latrines are installed and work to construct kitchens is scheduled to start soon. In addition, more than 5,000 others from various nationalities have arrived in Djibouti from Yemen, though they are not claiming asylum there.

Somalia has received 1,598 people fleeing Yemen to both Puntland (1,132) and Somaliland (466). Of these, 221 are Yemenis, 1,369 Somalis, 2 Ethiopians and 6 Djiboutians. Only a few of the Somalis were previously registered as refugees with UNHCR in Yemen.

For more information on this topic, please contact:

  • In Geneva, Adrian Edwards: +41 79 557 91 20
  • In Geneva, Ariane Rummery: +41 79 200 7617
  • In Djibouti, Frederic van Hamme: +253 77 14 1406
  • In Yemen, Mogib Abdullah: +967 71 222 5065
  • In Dubai, Mohammed Abu Asaker: +971 506 213 552
  • In Nairobi (covering Somalia), Alexandra Strand Holm: +254 733 12 11 47
  • In Nairobi (covering Somalia), Carlotta Wolf: +254 734 628 053 or +252 617 340 259