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IDPs in Yemen threatened by lack of humanitarian funding

(12 April 2010 ) “Internally displaced persons are at risk in Yemen due to insufficient humanitarian funding”, the Representative of the UN Secretary-General on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), Walter Kaelin, said at the end of his visit to the country. Despite the cease- fire of 11 February 2010 between the Government of Yemen and Al-Houthi, Yemen continues to have at least a quarter of a million IDPs, the majority of whom live outside camps in scattered settlements or unseen with host communities. Inaccessibility of certain districts of Sa’ada, Al Jawf and parts of Amran Governorates prevents the United Nations and other humanitarian partners from reaching all IDPs.

The humanitarian response during the armed conflict averted a disaster, particularly due to the good cooperation between the Government of Yemen and the United Nations, and Yemen’s own efforts. “These achievements are now threatened by a dramatic shortfall of funding”, the Representative said. Some humanitarian agencies have announced that without new funds they have to close down their operations within the next few months. “The consequences of such a withdrawal would be severe”, the Representative emphasized with concern. “IDPs by the very nature of their displacement, and in particular those who have suffered multiple displacements, have no more capacity to cope with their situation. A severe reduction of humanitarian assistance would not only cause a grave humanitarian crisis affecting their human rights to food, health and adequate shelter but there is also a serious risk that it would trigger instability in a still very fragile peace situation”, he added.

At the same time, the cease-fire has not yet resulted in sustainable peace in the war-torn North of the country. The security conditions in many of the affected areas do not yet allow for the safe and dignified return of the displaced. Scattered landmines and unexploded ordinances, threats against returnees, and a lack of confidence that the cease-fire will turn into peace are the overriding obstacle to their return, IDPs told the Representative. Other obstacles to return include the extensive destruction of houses and basic services, loss of livestock and livelihoods as well as the fact that humanitarian organizations still cannot access many areas to assist returnees until they become self-sufficient again. “The majority of the displaced will not be able to return in the near future and no one must be encouraged to return or forced to do so because of a lack of humanitarian assistance, when their safety cannot be guaranteed. The decision to return home must be truly voluntary”, the Representative stressed after his two field visits to Haradh, where he visited al-Mazrak camps 1,2, and 3 as well as IDPs in scattered locations, and to Amran, where IDPs also live outside camps.

The Representative calls on the parties to the conflict to abide by the conditions of the cease-fire agreement and continue to implement them, which would contribute to a more lasting peace in the North. In particular, he urges both parties to work together to agree guarantees of safety for returnees and humanitarian access to all parts of Sa’ada Governorate.

“A comprehensive strategy aimed at creating conditions conducive to durable solutions is now essential so that the displacement situation does not become protracted”, the Representative concluded. Given that return may not be an option, local integration in the area of displacement or settlement elsewhere in the country should not be excluded as a genuine alternative for those among the displaced who do not want to or cannot return. In the meantime, humanitarian assistance must continue and should be complemented by recovery activities to avoid a dependency syndrome and to allow the displaced to re-start their lives. “This must be a joint undertaking”, Kaelin said. “I welcome the Government’s readiness to elaborate together with its humanitarian partners a national strategy addressing these challenges, aimed at safeguarding the human rights of the displaced to safety and security and a life in dignity during and after displacement, and ultimately durable solutions to their displacement. However, without appropriate donor support this cannot be achieved”, he insisted.

During his visit to Yemen (04-10 April 2010), the Representative consulted with H.E. Prime Minister Dr. Ali Mohammed Mojawar, H.E. Vice Prime Minister for Security and Defence, Minister Rashad Al-Alimi, H.E. Minister Abdul Karem Rase’e, Minister of Health, H.E Minister Ahmed al-Kohlani, Minister for Parliamentary Affairs and Head of the Executive Office for IDPs, H.E. Dr Huda Ali Al Ban, Minister of Human Rights, and H.E. Minister Abubakar Al Qirbi, Minister of Foreign Affairs. He also spoke with heads of United Nations agencies and other humanitarian organizations. The Representative visited Hajjah and Amran Governorates, where he met with the Governor of Hajjah, local officials, humanitarian partners and many internally displaced persons.