Text size:

  • Small
  • Normal
  • Large

Yemen fighters urged to let aid through

Yemeni government forces and their rebel enemies have been urged by the UN allow more aid to reach those displaced by fighting in the country's north.

NEW YORK // The UN's emergency relief co-ordinator, Sir John Holmes, has urged Yemeni government forces and their rebel enemies to allow more aid to reach those displaced by fighting in the country's north. At the start of a four-day mission, Sir John, who is also the UN undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs, said he would discuss whether Saudi Arabia should permit Yemeni refugees to flee for safety across its southern border.

His trip, which begins today, includes a visit to a refugee camp and talks with Yemeni ministers. UN officials say Sir John will avoid broaching sensitive issues in the conflict. "The main focus of my visit will be - how we can ensure better access for the humanitarian agencies - UN agencies, NGOs, Red Cross, Red Crescent - to people who are trapped in the areas where hostilities are continuing," he said on Tuesday.

"This is a major problem and there are hostilities continuing and there are roadblocks; there are curfews and therefore access is proving extremely difficult." Aid workers are unable to reach to many of the 150,000 civilians displaced after the latest bout of fighting between government troops and al Houthi rebels in a five-year-old sectarian conflict, Sir John said. The Houthis are Zaidis, members of a Shiite sect fighting what it has branded an oppressive, Sunni-dominated central government.

The New York-based pressure group Human Rights Watch (HRW) accuses both sides of violating laws of war by failing to protect civilians on the battlefield since fighting intensified around Sa'ada in August. The UN's human rights commissioner, Navi Pillay, said an air raid on a makeshift refugee camp that killed more than 80 civilians last month was "deeply disturbing" and urged Yemeni officials to investigate. Mr Holmes, although not scheduled to meet any Zaidi rebels, called for "co-operation from both sides, the government and the Houthi rebels", to ensure aid flows. Shiites make up 30 per cent of Yemen's population of 22 million, but are concentrated in the north, where conflict has killed unknown numbers and crammed tens of thousands of the newly displaced into camps, schools, barns and even under bridges.

HRW said displaced civilians desperately need food, water, shelter and medicines, with many suffering from diarrhoea and other conditions after trudging in soaring temperatures across the country's rugged north, an area devastated by the fighting. Joe Stork, the agency's Middle East director, said: "Fighting and government restrictions means tens of thousands of civilians in northern Yemen are cut off from help that they desperately need. The government needs to help aid agencies reach civilians, not throw up obstacles in their way."

Such complaints echoed the concerns of Amnesty International, which has reported that Saudi border guards turned away Yemeni refugees who headed towards the border after fleeing fighting around Sa'ada. Saudi officials have opened their border to aid lorries delivering supplies to the battlefields, but campaigners say they should also offer refuge to Yemenis escaping violence in fear for their lives.

Malcolm Smart, Amnesty's regional director, has said the border is "the only way to get out of the firing line" for many Yemenis and that Saudi guards "must not force the return of any people seeking safe haven". Sir John lauded "good co-operation from the Saudi government" to allow aid deliveries and, although he is not scheduled to meet any Saudi officials, he said the refugee issue will come up during his visit.

Although HRW said forcibly returning refugees to a perilous battlefield violates global humanitarian rules, Sir John said he was "not sure about the exact legal position about whether they are violating international law". Analysts claim the Houthis finance their rebellion with Iranian cash, and Saudi Arabia is similarly accused of supplying the government, indicating the fighting is a proxy confrontation between Riyadh and Tehran.

This latest uprising adds to the woes of the Arab world's poorest country, where a weak central government struggles against southern secessionists, an influx of al Qa'eda militants, water shortages and plummeting oil revenues. In a paper for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Christopher Boucek warned that Yemen could collapse and become a breeding ground for terrorists, threatening to destabilise Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states,.

The UN recently appealed for US$23.7 million (Dh87m) to assist Yemeni refugees and urged oil-rich members of the Gulf Co-operation Council to bail out their ailing neighbour. As of yesterday, the appeal had only received about $1.5m, predominantly from western donors, although Saudi Arabia has pledged to give $1m. jreinl@thenational.ae

Back to the top

More articles


Editor's Picks

 A view of a defaced portrait of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during an anti-North Korean rally on the 102nd birthday of North Korean founder Kim Il Sung in central Seoul. Kim Hong-Ji / Reuters

Best photography from around the world, April 15

The National View's photo editors pick the best images of the day from around the world.

 The Doha-based Youssef Al Qaradawi speaks to the crowd as he leads Friday prayers in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt in February, 2011. The outspoken pro-Muslim Brotherhood imam has been critical of the UAE’s policies toward Islamist groups, adding to friction between Qatar and other GCC states. Khalil Hamra / AP Photo

Brotherhood imam skips Doha sermon, but more needed for GCC to reconcile

That Youssef Al Qaradawi did not speak raises hopes that the spat involving Qatar and the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain might be slowly moving towards a resolution.

 Twitter photo of  Abdel Fattah El Sisi on the campaign trail on March 30. Photo courtesy-Twitter/@SisiCampaign

El Sisi rides a bicycle, kicks off social media storm

The photos and video created a huge buzz across social media networks, possibly a marker of a new era for Egypt.

 An Afghan election commission worker carries a ballot box at a vote counting centre in Jalalabad on April 6. A roadside bomb hit a truck carrying full ballot boxes in northern Afghanistan, killing three people a day after the country voted for a successor to President Hamid Karzai. Eight boxes of votes were destroyed in the blast, which came as the three leading candidates voiced concerns about possible fraud. Noorullah Shirzada / AFP Photo

Two pressing questions for Afghanistan’s future president

Once in office, the next Afghan president must move fast to address important questions that will decide the immediate future of the country.

 Friday is UN Mine Awareness Day and Omer Hassan, who does demining work in Iraqi Kurdistan, is doing all he can to teach people about the dangers posed by landmines. Louise Redvers for The National

A landmine nearly ended Omer’s life but he now works to end the threat of mines in Iraq

Omer Hassan does demining work in Iraqi Kurdistan and only has to show people his mangled leg to underscore the danger of mines. With the world marking UN Mine Awareness Day on Friday, his work is as important as ever as Iraq is one of the most mine-affected countries in the world.

 Supporters of Turkey's ruling AKP cheer as they follow the election's results in front of the party's headquarters in Ankara on March 30. Adem Altan/ AFP Photo

Erdogan critic fears retaliation if he returns to Turkey

Emre Uslu is a staunch critic of Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Now, with a mass crackdown on opposition expected, he is unsure when he can return home.

Events

To add your event to The National listings, click here

Get the most from The National