Yemen: Alarming situation in the north

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming to whom quoted text may be attributed at today's press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

The humanitarian situation of the civilian population caught in the conflict in northern Yemen is alarming. Five weeks into the conflict, Sa'ada city remains virtually isolated from the rest of the world and inaccessible for the UN humanitarian community. Most of the displaced are stranded and dangerously exposed to the fighting as they are unable to reach safer areas.

Taking advantage of a lull in the fighting between the government troops and Al Houti forces, UNHCR managed this week to reach some of the internally displaced in Sa'ada through a local NGO partner. Today, our local NGO partner is planning a distribution of UNHCR aid to more than 700 internally displaced people (IDPs) in Sa'ada city where the humanitarian situation is most dramatic. The distribution of aid will continue as security conditions permit.

A recent UNHCR mission to the Saudi-Yemeni border assessed possible access to Sa'ada province from the neighbouring Saudi Arabia, particularly to the area of Baqim, some 20 kilometers from the border.

It is estimated that more than 15,000 people are displaced in Baqim area. The mission also learned that the fighting had also spread to that part of Yemen and that hundreds of families are reportedly living in schools and other public buildings or even in the open, squatting along the roads, under bridges, with little to feed on. These people are in dire need of shelter, food and water.

In addition to emergency aid already shipped to Yemen, UNHCR has positioned tents, mattresses, blankets and other aid items for more than 2,000 people on the Saudi side of the border with Yemen. The UN refugee agency is ready to launch a cross border operation from Saudi Arabia to access and assist the IDPs scattered north of Sa'ada city, pending security clearances from both governments.

We are also calling on Saudi authorities to offer safe shelter and assistance to displaced Yemenis who may seek refuge across the border as they flee the fierce fighting in northern Yemen. UNHCR is poised to assist in these efforts.

Meanwhile, we are continuing registration and distribution of aid to the displaced population in Amran province, especially in Amran City, Khamir, and Huth.

In Al Jwaf province, UNHCR's efforts to reach IDPs there were disrupted due to fighting in the area and the tragic incident in Al Adi in Amran province in which reportedly dozens of Yemeni civilians were killed. The plans for distribution of aid had to be put on hold in this area as our partners there were forced to suspend their activities.

An estimated 150,000 Yemenis have been affected by the fighting since 2004, including those displaced by the latest escalation.

The magnitude of displacement in Yemen is beyond available local resources of host communities as most of the IDPs remain with their relatives, friends or neighbours adding strain on their meager reserves and poor infrastructure. Urgent support from the international community is needed to aliviate the desperate situation of the displaced Yemenis. To date UNHCR received no contributions against the US$5 million flash appeal for Yemen emergency and continues to fund this operation from its operational reserves.