UNHCR appeals for $5 million to aid Yemenis fleeing fighting
GENEVA, August 21 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency asked donor governments Friday for an additional $5 million to help thousands of Yemeni civilians caught in escalating fighting between Al Houthi rebels and the government forces in the mountains of northern Yemen.
"These urgently-needed funds would allow UNHCR to organize coordination and management of the camps for internally displaced people (IDPs), expand registration and protection of IDPs, and provide much-needed tents for shelter and other humanitarian assistance for the next four months," a UNHCR spokesman, Andrej Mahecic, told journalists in Geneva.
UNHCR estimates that the fighting around Sa'ada city displaced some 35,000 people in the past two weeks alone. According to those fleeing from this remote, inaccessible part of Sa'ada governorate, the situation appears to be critical in Sa'ada city and further north in Addahar district, as well as in El Sufyan in neighbouring Amran governorate. The roads to Sa'ada governorate are blocked and there is no access to the conflict areas by air. Many attempting to flee are taking great risks and are paying smugglers to get out.
"Today it is a real tragedy," said Claire Bourgeois, UNHCR's representative in Yemen. "Some internally displaced people are displaced for the second or third time. They were already living in precarious situations for months or even years and now they have to go through the drama all over again."
We are appealing for a ceasefire which would allow the civilian population to escape the fighting and enable aid workers to resume deliveries of humanitarian
UNHCR spokesman Andrej Mahecic
Since 2004, clashes between the Al Houthi rebels and government troops in Sa'ada governorate have affected an estimated 120,000 people.
The Al-Talh camp, one of four camps for IDPs in Sa'ada city run by the Yemeni Red Crescent, continues to receive a steady influx of displaced families. Some 5,250 IDPs fled there early last week from the nearby Al Anad camp, which became a battleground over the past few days.
Civilians are also fleeing north and west towards the Saudi border in Baqim and in Mandaba. Others are moving east, looking for shelter on the outskirts of Dhahian city and Sahar district. Many are trying to reach Al-Talh camp.
In neighbouring Hajjah Governorate, southwest of Sa'ada, the authorities have set up a transit area between the towns of Haradh and Malaheet as thousands of IDPs are scattered along the road. There several UN and government agencies register and provide assistance to the IDPs. Some 8,400 IDPs have approached the registration centre for assistance in recent days.
"UNHCR is deeply concerned that some families have no access to assistance, and continues to appeal to the authorities of each party not to take the population hostage to the conflict," Bourgeois said.
UNHCR, as part of a joint UN team, has been in Hajjah Governorate since last week to quickly assess the situation, and will send missions to several other areas. Although UNHCR has distributed relief assistance - including tents, plastic sheeting, blankets and jerry cans - to IDPs in Hajjah governorate, distribution has been suspended in Sa'ada because of fighting.
"We are appealing for a ceasefire which would allow the civilian population to escape the fighting and enable aid workers to resume deliveries of humanitarian assistance," Mahecic said.
Since 2007, UNHCR has been supporting some 100,000 people affected by the fighting in the north. UNHCR also provides protection and assistance to some 150,000 refugees and asylum seekers who have made the dangerous journey to Yemen across the Gulf of Aden. The annual budget for UNHCR operations in Yemen is US$22 million.