UNHCR welcomes Yemen national policy on Internally Displaced People

Briefing Notes, 23 July 2013

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 23 July 2013, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR welcomes the adoption by Yemen of a national policy on internally displaced people (IDPs). The government approved the policy in late June, and it aims to protect the more than half-a-million Yemenis who have been forced to flee their homes in recent years and to help solve the problem of displacement within the Gulf state. UNHCR sees it as a major step forward.

The national policy, which Cabinet approved on 25 June, seeks to protect and assist people who are displaced by conflict, violence and natural disasters events that can destroy communities and leave families and individuals struggling to survive. The policy establishes a Supreme Committee, chaired by Prime Minister Mohammed Basindawa and it features three strategic goals: The first is to prevent arbitrary displacement while, at the same time, being ready to cope with displacement if and when it happens; The second goal is to support not only IDPs but also the communities that host them and other communities affected by displacement, including through the right to receive household supplies, employment training and access to other programs designed to help communities recover; And the third policy goal is to create the conditions for durable solutions such as employment, local integration and returning home solutions that IDPs can a ccept safely and voluntarily.

Although it is primarily the duty and responsibility of states to protect IDPs, the UN General Assembly has in a series of resolutions recognised UNHCR's humanitarian expertise and encourages its involvement in situations of internal displacement. In Yemen, UNHCR works with the government and our partners to provide support to more than 200,000 refugees, tens of thousands of asylum seekers as well as hundreds of thousands of displaced people. Our work in helping develop Yemen's national IDP policy included hosting a series of planning meetings in 2012 bringing together government officials, IDPs, IDP returnees, host communities, international agencies, NGOs and donors.

Fighting in both the north and the south of Yemen over the past decade produced the displacement, and there are 538,899 IDPs/returnees there. This figure includes 306,791 people still displaced as of the end of June 2013 and 232,108 people who have returned to their communities of origin and continue to receive help. Most of the displacement has resulted from citizens fleeing armed conflict and violence, and at least half of the country has been directly affected, with 11 out of 21 governorates hosting IDPs. Fighting in the north that began in 2004 caused a first wave of displacement. And since 2011, tribal violence associated with political unrest has also resulted in internal displacement in and around the governorates of Sana'a, Al-Badha and Dhamar. The vast majority (90%) of IDPs in Yemen don't live in camps but rather with host families, in rented rooms or in hundreds of informal settlements even in caves when they lack family con nections or money.

There have been positive developments. Fighting between government forces and rebels in Abyan Governorate in 2011 resulted in large-scale internal displacement in southern Yemen. But UNHCR and the Yemeni Government have since then overseen the return of more than a quarter of a million (262,336) displaced people most of them to their homes within Abyan. The overall number of registered IDPs has dropped from 385,325 at the end of 2012 to 232,108 by the end of June 2013 a decrease of 40%, or more than 150,000 people.

Worldwide, as of 2011, 147 countries were party to either the 1951 Refugee Convention or 1967 Protocol while far fewer have signed agreements for the protection of IDPs such as the 2009 Kampala Convention. And internal displacement is an increasing concern: As of the end of 2012 there were 28.8 million internally displace people worldwide. UNHCR feels legislation to help people displaced within their own countries is lacking. And currently Yemen, along with Afghanistan, Kenya and Uganda, is one of the countries that have made the effort to adopt a national policy. We feel that is the best way forward to make sure countries and the international community are prepared to deal with displacement when it happens and, above all, to protect and support people who are displaced.

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