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Yemen - assistance urgently needed for civilians caught in fighting

Briefing notes

Yemen - assistance urgently needed for civilians caught in fighting

8 September 2009

Heavy fighting between Al Houti forces and government troops in and around Sa'ada city in northern Yemen continues with utter disregard for the safety and well being of the civilian population.

People fleeing from the Al Malaheet area just southwest of Sa'ada city say they witnessed fierce fighting and were forced to flee their homes immediately as the area became a battleground. Most of the displaced arrived at the Mazraq camp in neighbouring Hajjah province, traumatized and exhausted. Some had walked through the desert for five days before reaching the camp, spending nights under trees as there was no other shelter. The majority of the displaced are women carrying hungry infants and crying babies.

Information from Sa'ada city is sketchy as phone lines have been cut off since yesterday morning. The situation for civilians inside the city is critical as the street battles rage on in several neighbourhoods and in the old part of the city. Most of the displaced are stranded and dangerously exposed to the fighting as they are unable to reach safer areas. Mines and unexploded ordnance on the roads increase the risks for those trying to flee the area. Inside Sa'ada city, people are living in extreme conditions. There has been no water or electricity in Sa'ada since 12 August and the food reserves are running out.

Clashes have also spread to Harf Sufyan in Amran province, south of Sa'ada forcing a new wave of internally displaced people (IDPs).

UNHCR is again appealing for a ceasefire and the establishment of humanitarian corridors which would allow the civilian population to escape the fighting and enable aid workers to resume deliveries of humanitarian assistance.

Meanwhile, a ship carrying UNCHR aid for the displaced in Yemen is scheduled to dock today at the port of Aden. Nine 40-foot containers holding 25,000 blankets, 6,000 plastic sheets, 6,000 kitchen sets and 300 canvas tents for Sa'ada will be unloaded and transported by trucks to the camps and the areas where we have access.

We are also ready to launch a cross border operation from Saudi Arabia to assist the IDPs scattered north of Sa'ada city as soon as we receive clearances from both governments. UNHCR has already positioned tents, mattresses, blankets and other aid items for more than 2,000 people on the Saudi side of the border with Yemen.

We are alarmed that to date UNHCR has received no contributions against an appeal launched last week. UNHCR is asking donor governments for an additional US$ five million to be able to respond to this emergency. The urgently-needed funds would allow UNHCR to organize the management of the camps, expand registration and protection of IDPs, and provide tents and other humanitarian assistance for the next four months.