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The U.N. refugee agency says it is extremely concerned about the recent escalation of the conflict in northern Yemen between the government and rebel Houthis. The UNHCR says there has been a significant increase in recent days in the number of civilians fleeing the embattled Saada governorate to safer areas of the country.
The UNHCR says it is unable to reach people in the embattled areas who are deprived of protection and essential aid. The agency is appealing for secure and unhindered access for humanitarian workers to deliver assistance.
U.N. refugee spokesman Andrej Mahecic says more people are fleeing Saada governorate and continue to arrive at al-Mazrak camp in Hajja governorate.
"On average, 130 to 140 families arrived to Al Mazrak camp both on Saturday and Sunday and another 80 families yesterday, which is a total of about 2,000 people. Elderly people, single mothers and children represent the majority of new arrivals. Most of them are coming from Khuba area where they had taken refuge after having fled the fighting in Saada. This means it is their second or third displacement," said Mahecic.
He says about 8,700 people are living in al-Mazrak camp which has been expanded to accommodate the new arrivals. He says 11,000 other people are being sheltered by host families.
Mahecic says the UNHCR airlifted a shipment of emergency relief items from its central stockpile in Dubai. The shipment, he says, included large tents and prefabricated warehouses, which will improve the delivery of aid and services to the people in need.
"Meanwhile, our office in Riyadh was informed yesterday by the Saudi authorities that the situation at the Alp border is stable, allowing UNHCR to continue it cross-border activities. We are hopeful that we will receive the security clearances from the Saudi authorities for the next aid convoy in the coming days. UNHCR's assistance will complement the Yemeni government's food and aid also arriving in the area," Mahecic said.
Low-level skirmishes between the rebels and Saudi Arabian and Yemeni forces have been going on for five years. The conflict heated up last week when Houthi Shiite rebels reportedly crossed into Saudi Arabia and killed a Saudi officer.
The Saudi government responded by sending fighter jets to bomb Houthi territory in northern Yemen. Fears are growing the lingering battle could turn into a wider regional conflict, potentially drawing in Iran, the region's biggest Shiite power.
The UNHCR estimates about 175,000 people have been affected by the conflict since 2004, including those displaced by the latest fighting.