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Guterres urges more international help for refugees in Yemen

Briefing notes

Guterres urges more international help for refugees in Yemen

16 May 2008

High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres is in southern Yemen today as part of a five-day official visit to the country. Yesterday (Thursday), Mr. Guterres visited Kharaz refugee camp near Aden, where he called on the international community to step up its assistance for refugees crossing the Gulf of Aden from the Horn of Africa.

Today, the High Commissioner is travelling along the southern coast, where he will visit new reception sites and meet with local Yemeni officials and NGO partners. He will also meet with urban refugees in Basateen, in Aden, and meet with some of the Somalis and Ethiopians who have recently made the dangerous voyage in smugglers' boats across the Gulf of Aden in search of protection or a better life. So far this year, more than 18,000 people have arrived in Yemen through the Gulf of Aden, and nearly 400 have died attempting the journey. The arrival figure is more than double last year's at this time.

Following his visit to the south, Mr. Guterres is scheduled to attend a regional conference on "Refugee Protection and International Migration in the Gulf of Aden" in the Yemen capital, Sana'a, on Monday and Tuesday. The regional conference is being convened by UNHCR in cooperation with the Mixed Migration Task Force for Somalia, composed of international agencies working in Somalia and funded by the European Commission. The objectives of the conference include establishing a regional mechanism and longer-term plan of action on refugee protection and mixed migration in the Gulf of Aden region.

Meanwhile in the north of Yemen, UNHCR is stepping up its assistance to internally displaced people (IDPs) as a result of an upsurge in fighting in Saada Governorate. In recent weeks, UNHCR has assisted newly-arrived IDPs with more than 100 tents, 300 mattresses and 300 blankets. UNHCR works closely with other agencies on the ground to deliver a quick humanitarian response and is presently emptying its warehouse in Saada city to be able to dispatch more relief items. Security conditions in the area make access and support difficult.

According to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), it is estimated that over 80,000 people are displaced in Saada, 30,000 more than in 2007. Some of the displaced are living in three IDP camps in Saada city. Other displaced are staying with host families.

UNHCR, which has been assisting IDPs and returnees in Saada Governorate since October 2007, last month launched a US$3 million appeal. So far, we have received $1 million from the UN Central Emergency Relief Fund (CERF).

If more funds are made available, UNHCR and its partner NGOs will in 2008 continue the distribution of non-food items, such as blankets, stoves and mattresses, and focus on shelter issues though the provision of tents and reconstruction material and assistance to the construction of mud shelters for vulnerable returnees. This assistance will also help relieve the burden on local communities, which host 90 percent of the IDP population. We will also establish a legal aid, information and counselling centre. Recently, we finalized negotiations with the Saada electricity board for a cost -sharing agreement that will bring much needed electricity to the IDP camps in the city.