News / Middle East

Renewed Fighting in Yemen Puts Refugee Returns in Doubt

Lisa Schlein

The UN refugee agency says a serious escalation in fighting between al-Houti forces and pro-government tribes in a remote northwestern part of Sa'ada province in Yemen is putting in doubt the hoped for return of people displaced by this long-standing conflict. Renewed clashes erupted on November 13.  

The UN refugee agency says the recent eruption of fighting has triggered the worst violence in northern Yemen since the signing of the ceasefire in February.  

It reports at least 20 people have been killed and others wounded over the past 10 days.  UNHCR spokesman, Andrej Mahecic, says a few Yemenis arriving in Sa'ada city report heavy fighting in this isolated mountainous area is continuing.

He says the fighting between the al-Houti and government forces is concentrated in districts bordering Saudi Arabia.

"Information on resulting displacement is very patchy," said Mahecic. "According to eyewitness accounts families from the village of Jalhow in Monabih district have crossed into neighboring Saudi Arabia.  We are in the process of dispatching a small team from our regional office in Riyadh to establish the numbers and assess the needs.  This is an alarming escalation.  UNHCR is adding its voice to that of the local mediation committee in calling for calm and protection of the civilian population."  

The UNHCR reports only around 20,000 Yemeni internally displaced people have returned to Sa'ada governorate.  Mahecic says instability and slow implementation of the peace agreement is prolonging internal displacement in Yemen.

He says many of the displaced are reluctant to return to the homes they fled because of the ongoing insecurity and fear of reprisals.  He says extensive destruction of houses and infrastructure in the combat zone also are obstacles to their return.

He says more than 300,000 Yemenis are still displaced and need help.  But, he says aid workers only have limited access to the displaced because of the fragile security situation.

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