Yemen's Displaced Reaches Quarter Million
Rebels call for a ceasefire in six-year old war as the UN deals with over a quarter million refugees.
By BENJAMIN JOFFE-WALT / THE MEDIA LINE
January 31, 2010 15:00
4 minute read.
(photo credit: AP)
UNHCR said the lack of shelter for
the 250,000 internal refugees was a major concern and is appealing for
$16 million to serve those internally displaced in the north.
Yemeni forces killed 20 Houthi rebels on Sunday, effectively rejecting
a ceasefire offer two days after it was revealed that over a quarter
million Yemeni civilians have been displaced by the conflict.
Abdel Malik Al-Houthi, the leader of the Shia rebellion in Yemen's northern
provinces, announced Saturday that his forces would accept five conditions
set by the Yemeni government for a ceasefire after Yemeni national forces
stopped "aggression" in the area. The leader seemed to frame
his acceptance of the ceasefire as a response to the growing humanitarian
crises the conflict has created.
"In order to avoid the catastrophic situation in the country and
to stop the genocide which civilians are exposed to, we reiterate our
acceptance of the five conditions," Al-Houthi said in an online
But without responding to Al-Houthi's statement, Yemen's Ministry of
Defense announced Sunday that its soldiers had killed 24 Houthi rebels
in air raids throughout the northern provinces of Malahidh and Saada.
The news came just two days after the United Nations High Commissioner
for Refugees (UNHCR) announced that the number of Yemeni civilians displaced
since the fighting in the north broke out in 2004 has passed the 250,000
The UN Refugee Agency estimates that the number of internal refugees
has more than doubled since the latest round of fighting broke out in
"These are all people displaced by the fighting in the North,"
Andrej Mahecic, a spokesperson with UNHCR told The Media Line. "Those
who fled left almost everything they had so they are facing incredible
"What we've noticed over the past two months is that those who
tried to stay cannot sustain themselves any longer so they are now heading
south," he said. "The livelihood that these people had has
been destroyed. There are problems with the water supply and people
simply cannot sustain themselves any longer where they live."
"Making ends meet is getting increasingly difficult for the displaced
population as well as access to basic services such as health and education,"
UNHCR said in a statement. "Most of them fled leaving behind almost
all of their belongings and cattle which was the pillar of their livelihoods
and primary source of income."
"The need for humanitarian aid has been increasing dramatically
so we are appealing for funds," said Mahecic.
The UN Refugee Agency welcomed the potential ceasefire.
"Our biggest difficulty is access as it's very unsafe to move,"
Mahecic said. “From the start of the conflict secure access to the
region has been a top issue for us. A minimum security environment is
required to allow people to leave and to allow for the delivery of aid."
Dr Ahmed Saif, a political scientist at the Yemen College of Middle
Eastern Studies, argued that the ceasefire was born of international
pressure and as such was likely to hold.
"This is clearly an outcome of the London conference," he
told The Media Line, referring to a gathering of major world powers
in London last week to discuss developments in Yemen and Afghanistan.
"The international community has put a great deal of pressure on
all sides to reconcile so as to stabilize the country, build up security
and fight Al-Qaeda."
"I'm optimistic," Saif said. "The government set five
conditions and the rebels accepted them. This cease-fire will be coordinated
worldwide on many levels and hopefully set the stage for genuine reform
in the country."
The government conditions included the full withdrawal of Houthi rebels
from all areas they have occupied in the course of the fighting, the
return of all government and military equipment the rebels seized in
the course of the fighting, the release of all detained soldiers and
civilians and a commitment to abide by Yemeni national law.
Dr Stephen Steinbeiser, Resident Director of the American Institute
for Yemeni Studies in the Yemeni capital Sanaa, said that while it was
too early to tell, the ceasefire held promise.
”Most people are skeptical when they hear of a ceasefire in the north
and I heard from the Red Crescent there was still fighting through the
end of last week so it's difficult to know exactly what's going on,"
he told The Media Line. "But it sounds like there is a ceasefire
and this is definitely a new development."
"It could just be a short term stop in the fighting, but the Houthis
seem to be serious about it," Dr Steinbeiser said. "The government
forces have been effective in preventing the rebels from regrouping
and bringing in arms and seem to have won, at least temporarily, in
that area of the country, so in a way I don't know what choice the rebels
have at this point."