Tens of thousands flee tribal clashes in Yemen in past three months

News Stories, 9 March 2012

© UNHCR/H.Macleod
Young Yemenis shelter in a northern Yemen camp after being displaced by fighting.

ADEN, Yemen, March 9 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency warned on Friday that Yemen is facing a new wave of internal displacement as tens of thousands of civilians flee tribal clashes in the north of the country and fighting flares between government troops and militant groups in the south.

The situation is particularly difficult in Haradh governorate north of the capital Sana'a where, according to Yemeni authorities, sporadic tribal clashes have displaced some 52,000 people over the past three months. This is in addition to the estimated 314,000 Yemenis already displaced in the north and unable to return to their homes in Sa'ada governorate.

Despite the peace agreement signed between the Yemeni government and Al-Houtis in June 2010, the situation in northern Yemen remains volatile. "Insecurity hinders large-scale return and severely limits humanitarian access," UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards said.

He added that UNHCR continues to run two camps for displaced Yemenis in the north and has been providing assistance to internally displaced people (IDP) in the camps and in host communities.

Meanwhile, in the south, at least 1,800 people have been displaced in the last two weeks by the latest escalation in fighting between government troops and militants in Abyan governorate. The displaced from the town of Ja'ar now join more than 150,000 IDPs in the south. This includes virtually the entire populations of the towns of Zinjibar, Khanfar and Al-Kud, displaced since the beginning of the conflict last May. We estimate another 120,000 people are at risk of forced displacement.

"Many residents of Ja'ar fled the approaching conflict. There were not enough places on local buses and consequently the price of renting vehicles has tripled," Edwards said. "The journey to Aden, which is normally a trip of just 30 minutes, has been taking more than five hours on difficult alternate roads in overloaded minibuses. More people are arriving daily," he added.

Since last May most of the internally displaced civilians in the south have found shelter in Aden and in other towns and parts of Abyan, where they have strong family and tribal links. Others took shelter in schools. Today 74 public schools in Aden shelter more than 20,000 IDPs.

The UNHCR operation in Yemen has assisted more than 80,000 internally displaced people in five southern governorates. The agency has also rehabilitated several vacant buildings to provide temporary shelter for some 2,000 IDPs, freeing up two schools for more than 3,000 students.

"Together with our partners we are positioning stocks and coordinating efforts to address the needs of the newly displaced," Edwards said, adding: "The biggest challenge remains shelter."

Schools hosting IDPs in Aden are filled to capacity and the host community cannot take more. With the recent arrivals there are now almost 20 people to a room in some schools. Some IDPs have only been able to find space in school grounds or in the halls.

In light of the increasing displacement and growing insecurity, UNHCR has set up local monitoring networks trained to recognize protection risks and urgent needs of the displaced. These will alert UNHCR and help ensure continued delivery of protection and assistance. UNHCR plans to double the number of networks this year.

For 2012, UNHCR is seeking US$60 million to address the humanitarian needs of some 216,000 refugees and almost half a million IDPs in Yemen.

By Edward Leposky in Aden, Yemen

• DONATE NOW •

 

• GET INVOLVED • • STAY INFORMED •

UNHCR country pages

Internally Displaced People

The internally displaced seek safety in other parts of their country, where they need help.

Asylum and Migration

Asylum and Migration

All in the same boat: The challenges of mixed migration around the world.

Related Internet Links

UNHCR is not responsible for the content and availability of external internet sites

Gulf of Aden People-Smuggling: International Help Needed

An alarming number of people are dying trying to reach Yemen aboard smugglers' boats crossing the Gulf of Aden from Somalia. Over a three-week period in late 2005, at least 150 people perished while making the journey. These deaths are frequently the result of overcrowded boats capsizing or breaking down and going adrift without food or water. Those who survive the voyage to Yemen often give brutal accounts of smugglers beating passengers or forcing them overboard while still far off shore – in some instances with their hands and feet bound.

In response, UNHCR has issued an urgent appeal for action to stem the flow of desperate Ethiopian and Somali refugees and migrants falling prey to ruthless smugglers in a bid to reach Yemen and beyond. The refugee agency has also been working with the authorities in Puntland, in north-eastern Somalia, on ways to inform people about the dangers of using smugglers to cross the Gulf of Aden. This includes production of videos and radio programmes to raise awareness among Somalis and Ethiopians of the risks involved in such crossings.

Gulf of Aden People-Smuggling: International Help Needed

2011 Yemen: Risking All for a Better Future

Plagued by violence, drought and poverty, thousands of people in the Horn of Africa leave their homes out of desperation every year. Seeking safety or a better life, these civilians - mainly Somalis and Ethiopians - make the dangerous journey through Somalia to the northern port of Bossaso.

Once there, they pay up to US$150 to make the perilous trip across the Gulf of Aden on smugglers' boats. They often wait for weeks in Bossaso's safe houses or temporary homes until a sudden call prompts their departure under the veil of night, crammed into small rickety boats.

Out at sea, they are at the whim of smugglers. Some passengers get beaten, stabbed, killed and thrown overboard. Others drown before reaching the beaches of Yemen, which have become the burial ground for hundreds of innocent people who die en route.

The Yemen-based Society for Humanitarian Solidarity (SHS) has been helping these people since 1995. On September 13, 2011 UNHCR announced that the NGO had won this year's Nansen Refugee Award for its tireless efforts to assist people arriving from the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea.

2011 Yemen: Risking All for a Better Future

Yemeni humanitarian aid group wins 2011 Nansen Refugee Award

The founder and staff of the Society for Humanitarian Solidarity (SHS), a humanitarian organization in Yemen, has won the 2011 Nansen Refugee Award for their work in aiding and rescuing refugees and migrants who make the dangerous sea journey across the Gulf of Aden from the Horn of Africa. View a slideshow of the group's life-saving work, patrolling the beaches of southern Yemen for new arrivals and providing food, shelter and medical care to those who survive the dangerous journey.

Yemeni humanitarian aid group wins 2011 Nansen Refugee Award

Yemeni NGO wins Nansen AwardPlay video

Yemeni NGO wins Nansen Award

The Society for Humanitarian Solidarity wins the 2011 Nansen Refugee Award for helping tens of thousands of refugees and migrants who make the treacherous journey to Yemen on smugglers' boats.
Yemen: Waiting for peacePlay video

Yemen: Waiting for peace

The Yemeni government has declared the war in the north is over. But most of the roughly 280,000 people uprooted by the violence are reluctant to return home.
Yemen: Further DisplacementPlay video

Yemen: Further Displacement

In Yemen the fighting continues in the north. UNHCR reports that the numbers of families fleeing is mounting and camps for the displaced are becoming crowded.