Yemen's Brutal Conflict Pushing One Million Displaced to Return to Danger (Joint UNHCR-IOM Press Release)

As fighting spreads in Yemen in February 2017, a recently displaced family receives UNHCR assistance, a tent to live in, in the coastal governate of Al Hudaydah. Some 34,000 people fled their homes in Al Mokha and Dhubab districts as the conflict intensified.  © UNHCR/N Al Sharafi

Unabated conflict and rapidly deteriorating conditions across Yemen are pushing millions of displaced Yemenis further into danger and adversity, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and IOM, the UN Migration Agency, warned today following the release of the latest data on the country’s displacement crisis.

Since the beginning of the conflict in March 2015, more than 11 per cent of Yemen’s population, some 3 million people, have been forced to flee their homes for safety. Almost two years later, however, prolonged hostilities and worsening conditions are now forcing 1 million of those uprooted to return to the homes from which they fled, despite danger and insecurity across the country.

Two reports issued by the Task Force on Population Movement (TFPM), a technical working group co-led by UNHCR and IOM, show that there are currently 2 million internally displaced people (IDPs) across Yemen and 1 million IDP returnees; and that as conditions across the country further deteriorate, many more IDPs are contemplating a return home, where challenging security and socio-economic conditions persist. 

Comprising a Multi-sectoral Location Assessment report released today and a periodically updated population movement tracking report (TFPM 12th report) published last month, the TFPM reports furnish the most comprehensive and detailed estimates of displaced populations and their circumstances in Yemen, and inform humanitarian response planning for 2017.

The reports highlight that a lack of access to income and basic services in areas of displacement are the main reasons pushing IDPs to return to their areas of origin, with 40 per cent of key informants indicating that IDPs now intend to return home within the next three months. 

UNHCR’s Country Representative for Yemen, Ayman Gharaibeh, said: “It’s testament to how catastrophic the situation in Yemen has become, that those displaced by the conflict are now returning home because life in the areas to which they had fled for safety is just as abysmal as in the areas from which they fled.”

“Those attempting to return face tremendous challenges,” Gharaibeh added. “They often return to homes that have been damaged, in areas lacking essential services. They still need humanitarian aid and are often forced to flee their homes again. These returns cannot be viewed as sustainable.” 

Noting that all of Yemen’s governorates, with the exception of the island of Socotra, have been affected by conflict, Gharaibeh said, “the overwhelming majority of Yemen’s 1 million IDP returnees have returned to Aden, Amanat Al Asimah, Taizz, Lahj and Shabwah, which have been particularly impacted by hostilities and insecurity.”

“For those that are returning home, food, financial assistance and psycho-social support remain priority needs,” he added.

The TFPM reports also provide indications of how dire life has become for the 2 million IDPs across the country. Shortages of food and malnutrition are widespread and reported in 84 per cent of IDP locations identified. In addition to malnutrition, diarrheal diseases and malaria are cited as the most common health concerns for Yemen’s displaced. 

IOM Yemen’s Chief of Mission, Laurent De Boeck, noted the great distress for those in collective centers and spontaneous settlements, explaining that “IOM, alongside its partners, remains committed to support IDP families who have sought shelter in these camp-like settings and are living in unbearable conditions with limited to no access to services and are exposed to health risks and environmental hazards on a daily basis.” 

“When I recently visited some of these spontaneous settlements and IDPs in schools in Taizz, Hajjah, Lahj and Ibb governorates I saw just how imperative it is for the humanitarian community to adapt its response to address lifesaving needs, while also working to rebuild the damaged infrastructure to improve access to services, such as those of health, shelter, NFIs, water and food, and alleviate the pressures on the communities hosting large IDP populations,” De Boeck said. 

De Boeck added, “with the most recent large scale displacement seen in Taizz, which is not yet reflected within the TFPM reports, IOM and all partners must scale up their response to support those newly displaced as well as those whose displacement is becoming increasingly protracted with shifting needs as indicated in the released reports. This motivates IOM to scale up and access the most remote areas in country.”

So far, 71 per cent of those displaced have been seeking refuge in Yemen’s central and western governorates -- including Hajjah, Amanat Al Asimah, Sana’a, Dhamar, Ibb and Taizz, all of which are experiencing intense hostilities -- and multiple displacement is increasingly being observed. In the absence of livelihood opportunities and insufficient assistance, many IDPs are also resorting to harmful practices to cope in displacement, including child labour and early marriage.

Yemen’s local communities, which are overwhelmingly absorbing the burden of the displacement crisis, are also under intense strain with alarming scarcities of food and insufficient access to water and sanitation services reported. Eighty-four percent of Yemen’s 2 million IDPs have been displaced for more than a year and scarce resources are increasingly overstretched. 

The Location Assessment report also provides insight into difficulties in accessing conflict-affected populations across Yemen and the perception among IDPs and returnees of humanitarian assistance. Though the majority of IDPs and returnees perceive humanitarian assistance as partially supporting them in meeting priority needs, negative perceptions of aid and considerable gaps in the engagement of humanitarian actors with local communities are also reported.

In response, the humanitarian community in Yemen has adopted an ‘Accountability to Affected Populations Framework’ as part of the Humanitarian Response Plan for 2017, requiring all humanitarian partners to create mechanisms to ensure that affected populations can provide feedback or complain about the assistance they have received. 

In addition, UNHCR and IOM are continuing to engage with all parties to the conflict for improved access to populations in need across Yemen, and with donors for increased international support for life-saving humanitarian programs.

Assessments for the two TFPM reports were conducted in all of Yemen’s governorates. Displacement tracking for the 12th report covered 98.5% of Yemen’s 333 districts and data for the Location Assessment report was collected through physical site visits by field teams where key informants representing the community were interviewed. 

Copies of the full reports are available here:

 

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