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Hundreds displaced by fighting on Yemen-Saudi border

Newly arrived IDPs in Al Mazraq camp
Newly arrived IDPs in Al Mazraq camp (Alimbek Tashtankulov/IRIN)

Hundreds of civilians have been fleeing their villages along the border with Saudi Arabia following clashes between Yemen’s Houthi-led Shia insurgents and the Saudi armed forces, according to a UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) official.

“Over the past three days we had over 100 families arriving in the [al-Mazraq] camp every day - more than 300 families [2,100 people],” UNHCR team leader Mai Barazi told IRIN on 10 November.

The camp, which is about 40 minutes drive from Haradh, in the northwestern province of Hajjah, currently has an estimated 8,700 internally displaced persons (IDPs). “Another 11,000 IDPs are sheltered by host families and communities in this part of Yemen,” Marie Marullaz, UNHCR associate external relations officer in Sanaa, told IRIN on 11 November.

“Some came from Saudi Arabia, to where they had fled before escaping fighting in the Malahaid area [west of Saada],” Barazi said.

“The elderly, single mothers and children represent a significant proportion of the new arrivals. Most are coming from Khuba area where they had taken refuge after having fled the fighting in Saada Governorate [between the government and Houthi rebels]. It is thus their second or third displacement,” Marullaz said.

Cousins Ahmed Makhdari and Ahmed Jabar, who arrived in the camp last week, said they fled fighting in the Malahaid area a month ago. “We ran away to Saudi Arabia, but they sent us back to Yemen and we came here,” Mahkdari said.

“Many of these IDPs report continued deportations by Saudi authorities during the last few days… They claim to have been deported without any of their personal belongings, including their ID cards, which might in turn delay their registration. At the same time, UNHCR is working with local authorities to ensure that legitimate new IDP arrivals are all allowed to register,” Marullaz said.

“The camp is full”

The most recent UNHCR figures on arrivals show a marked increase on last week when on average 10-20 families (70-140 people) were arriving in al-Mazraq each day.

Ahmed Makhdari, an IDP at the al-Mazraq camp, fled fighting in his native Malahaid area west of Saada in norhtern Yemen

Alimbek Tashtankulov/IRIN
Ahmed Makhdari, an IDP at the al-Mazraq camp, fled fighting in his native Malahaid area west of Saada in norhtern Yemen
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
Des centaines de personnes déplacées par des affrontements à la frontière yéméno-saoudienne
Ahmed Makhdari, an IDP at the al-Mazraq camp, fled fighting in his native Malahaid area west of Saada in norhtern Yemen

Photo: Alimbek Tashtankulov/IRIN
Ahmed Makhdari inside the tent where 15 members of his extended family stay

“The camp is full, but we are doing all we can to accommodate the new arrivals. We’ve put up at least 100 new tents for the newcomers and at least nobody is out in the open - they have some shelter. More than 100 families have been accommodated at the camp’s transition centre, where newcomers stay initially before moving to a tent within the camp,” Barazi said.

As more IDPs arrive, aid workers say congestion at the camp is becoming a serious problem. “We are 15 people in one tent and it is very crowded,” Makhdari said.

Barazi said it was very important to set up a second IDP camp in the area as soon as possible.

“Al-Mazraq 2 is under construction and will allow the accommodation of IDPs in about one month. The government has accepted the offer of the UAE [United Arab Emirates] Red Crescent to take over complete responsibility for the construction and management of Al Mazraq 2 Camp,” Marullaz said.

Saudi aid route

UNHCR launched a cross-border aid operation in October through Saudi Arabia to meet the needs of IDPs trapped in and around Saada city. Whether the Saudi aid route remains open following the reported incursions by Houthi rebels into Saudi territory is unclear, though on 6 November Andrej Mahecic told a news briefing in Geneva that UNHCR hoped an aid convoy carrying shelter supplies would be able to enter northern Yemen from Saudi Arabia “in the next few days”.

On 10 November the UNHCR office in Riyadh was informed by the Saudi authorities that the situation at the Alp border crossing with Yemen was stable, allowing UNHCR to continue its cross-border activities, said Marullaz.

“We are hopeful that we will receive the security clearances from the Saudi authorities for the next aid convoy in the coming days,” she added.

Sporadic clashes since 2004 between Houthi rebels and the Yemeni government, which escalated in August 2009, have forced some 175,000 IDPs to flee their homes, according to UNHCR. In response to a border skirmish that killed at least one Saudi soldier, Saudi air strikes on 5 November reportedly hit strongholds of the Shia rebel group.

The Houthis complain that they have been politically, economically and religiously marginalized by the government, and want a return to the autonomous rule they enjoyed before 1962.


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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