Top UN refugee official urges better access to conflictaffected Yemenis

17 January 2011The head of the United Nations refugee agency has urged the Government of Yemen and an armed movement to continuing making efforts to achieve peace while allowing humanitarian organizations to deliver aid to hundreds of thousands of people affected by the conflict. “Both sides told us they were tired of war and they will allow access to humanitarians to assist,” said António Guterres, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, following separate meetings in the northern Yemeni city of Sa’ada with elected government officials and representatives of the Al-Houthi armed group.There are an estimated 300,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Yemen’s northern governorates, where humanitarian access has been severely limited, despite the existence of a ceasefire. Mr. Guterres expressed his commitment to increasing support to the Yemeni population affected by the conflict.“We believe humanitarian aid should reach everybody in need without any discrimination – political, religious or tribal,” Mr. Guterres said at the end of a three-day visit to Yemen on Saturday, accompanied by the European Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response, Kristalina Georgieva.He spoke of a moment of opportunity to “use humanitarian aid as a tool to dilute tension to create an environment more conducive to the success of the peace process.”The two officials witnessed the widespread destruction and displacement of people in Sa’ada and spent time with Somali refugees in the Kharaz refugee camp and in Aden in the south. They also met Yemen’s Prime Minister, Ali Mohammed Mujawar, and other senior government officials.In the Kharaz camp run by the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), Mr. Guterres and Ms. Georgieva met traumatized refugees who had survived the perilous journey across the Gulf of Aden from Djibouti. Hundreds of demonstrators drew attention to their frustration in the camp, which hosts mostly Somali refugees.“They suffer inside Somalia, during their escape and then here,” Mr. Guterres said. “Unable to return to their war-torn country, refugees in Kharaz have no option other than to live in limbo in the camp.” Home to 14,000 refugees living in sturdy housing blocks on a windy desert clearing, the Kharaz refugee camp accommodates only a fraction of the refugees arriving on Yemen’s southern shores.Most flock to the cities of Aden or Sa’ada where they struggle to make a living. UNHCR is implementing a new strategy to better serve urban refugee populations with education, micro-credit projects, health care and legal assistance. Yemen hosts some 170,000 Somali refugees. read more