Latest fighting brings number of displaced in northern Yemen to 200,000
GENEVA, January 12 (UNHCR) - Recent months of renewed fighting in northern Yemen's Sa'ada province has pushed the number of people displaced by the protracted conflict past the 200,000 mark. This includes tens of thousands in the past six months of the fighting, which first flared in 2004.
Thousands of Yemeni civilians continue to flee from the clashes between government troops and Al Houti forces in Sa'ada to neighbouring provinces, desperately seeking safety, shelter and assistance.
These newly displaced people bring stories of intense clashes in Razeh, Saqain and Sahar districts and report dozens of civilian casualties as a result of air strikes and heavy fighting. UNHCR is not present in the conflict area and has no independent confirmation of these reports.
"We now estimate that some 200,000 people have been affected by the conflict in Yemen since 2004, including those displaced by the latest escalation which erupted in early August last year," UNHCR spokesman Andrej Mahecic told journalists in Geneva on Tuesday.
Many of the internally displaced people (IDPs) in Hajjah and Amran provinces have been arriving by foot after long and tiring journeys. But despite the large numbers fleeing, many people remain trapped in conflict areas.
"The latest influx is straining already stretched shelter capacity and quickly depleting aid resources in the area," Mahecic said. "Overcrowding at Al Mazrak 1 camp in Hajjah province is a major concern for UNHCR as the camp now hosts over 21,000 people - more than double its original capacity," he added.
A second camp, funded by the United Arab Emirates, is quickly filling up. The third camp at Al Mazrak has the planned capacity of 1,200 families (9,400 people) with the possibility of further extension. The first 50 families are scheduled to move there later this week. A UNHCR site planner is working with the local authorities on the identification of a suitable fourth location.
The number of IDPs outside the camps is also growing rapidly. There are now huge makeshift sites along the roads close to the Al Mazrak camps.
UNHCR's Mahecic also welcomed an announcement by the Organization of Islamic Conference that it will build a 20-bed hospital and a school in Al Mazrak. The hospital will serve the three camps and the local population.
The shelter situation is equally dire in Amran province where most of the arriving IDPs are staying with host families or renting. Over the New Year's week alone, more than 5,000 new IDPs arrived in the city of Amran.
"The acute lack of shelter and accommodation is creating tensions between the displaced and the local population. In the absence of an immediate and feasible camp option, UNHCR is planning to set up a transit centre in Amran as an interim and temporary solution," Mahecic said.
Meanwhile, people also continue to arrive in the Yemen capital of Sa'ana to escape the intense fighting in Sa'ada province. Some 500 families have arrived in recent weeks, joining some 11,000 vulnerable IDPs already in the capital.