In partnership with the Institute for Migration Studies, Lebanese American University
Dr. Jasmin Lilian Diab, Institute for Migration Studies, Lebanese American University
Anas Jerjawi, Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor
Overview of the Conflict
In late January 2011, Yemen experienced widespread popular protests demanding political and economic reform. The protests continued until November that year, when the Yemeni parties reached an agreement under which late President Ali Abdullah Saleh stepped down. In February 2012, his deputy, Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi, assumed the presidency. But that was not the end of the unrest. In September 2014, the Houthi group seized control of the capital, Sanaa, and other main Yemeni governorates by armed force. It also took control of the official state institutions. In March 2015, the Arab coalition, led by Saudi Arabia and the UAE (and with the participation of other Arab countries) began an ongoing air campaign against the Houthi group. The conflict expanded dramatically, and with it the humanitarian crisis.
The warring parties are controlling varying areas of the country. The Houthi group controls eleven governorates, including the capital, Sanaa. The Yemeni government forces, supported by the Arab military coalition, control seven other governorates. The UAE-backed Southern Transitional Council controls three governorates. Limited Al-Qaeda activity was recorded in some governorates. By early 2022, the number of victims of the conflict in Yemen was estimated at 377,000 people, nearly 60% of them lost their lives due to issues associated with the conflict including a lack of access to food, water, and healthcare. Across Yemen, 2.2 million children are acutely malnourished, including nearly more than half a million children facing severe acute malnutrition, a life-threatening condition, according to a new IPC report.
Horrific human rights violations continue to take place as the conflict persists. The UN Group of Eminent Regional and International Experts on Yemen confirmed that all parties committed acts that may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity, including the Arab coalition whose airstrikes killed a large number of civilians. The de facto Houthi authority, the Yemeni government forces, and the Southern Transitional Council were involved in the killing, torture, or hiding of many people, which deepened the humanitarian crisis.
Displacement in Numbers
The seven years of continuous conflict have taken a heavy toll on the population at various levels. About 23.4 million Yemenis (73% of the population) have become dependent on humanitarian aid. The military operations had caused the internal displacement of 4.3 million Yemenis by March 2022. About 40% of them are living in unofficial displacement camps and do not have adequate access to basic services. Yemen has seen the worst humanitarian crisis in the world. The conflict also had a devastating impact on the country’s economic situation, as it caused a comprehensive economic collapse that reduced the GDP per capita by about 50%. Two out of three Yemenis – 20 million men, women, and children – live in extreme poverty.
According to UNICEF, the humanitarian situation in Yemen is expected to worsen between June to December 2022. The number of people unable to meet their minimum food needs in Yemen may reach a record of 19 million people. It is also expected that an additional 1.6 million people in the country will fall into emergency levels of hunger, bringing the total to 7.3 million people by the end of 2022. It is also feared that the numbers will rise even higher due to the decline in international funding for humanitarian operations, as world leaders only committed USD 1.3 billion out of the USD 4.3 billion needed for the humanitarian response in Yemen in the pledging conference held on March 16, 2021.
Children are the most affected by the crisis. The UN has verified that more than 10,200 children were killed and injured between 2015 and 2022 due to military operations, and the actual numbers are likely much higher. In terms of the humanitarian consequences for children, it is expected that the level of acute malnutrition will continue to rise among children under the age of five. About 1.3 million pregnant or lactating women suffer from acute malnutrition.
The violations of children’s rights extended to the recruitment of thousands by the parties to the conflict, especially the Houthi group. A report by Euro-Med Monitor documented the Houthi group’s use of different patterns and methods through which it recruited about 10,300 children in various areas of its control. During just one month of combat in 2020, 111 of them were verified to be killed. In terms of access to water and electricity, the population in Yemen suffers from a major water crisis. The water pipe network covers only 30% of the population, and more than 15 million people are forced daily to resort to costly and time-consuming methods to obtain sufficient water. Also, about 90% of the population does not have access to subsidized electricity.
Realities in Host Countries
Though Yemen’s conflict has predominantly resulted in mass internal displacement, the conflict has also caused large numbers of Yemenis to seek refuge outside the country. However, while thousands of Yemenis have sought refuge in neighboring countries and further, there remains very limited information or statistics on the number of Yemeni refugees or their distribution across host countries at the international level. As of 2020, a reported 3,576 people from Yemen fled and applied for asylum in other countries according to UNHCR data. This corresponds to approximately 0.012% of all residents. Destination countries include the United Kingdom, Germany and the Netherlands. The most successful applications have been to Canada and in Jordan. According to UNHCR, Jordan was hosting 13,727 Yemeni asylum-seekers as of March 2021. A total of 38 people successfully fled to the United States from Yemen. With 23 positive decisions.
For its part, Yemen serves as a host country as well. Despite the ongoing conflict, Yemen hosts 137,000 refugees and asylum seekers from Somalia and Ethiopia, making it the world’s second largest host of Somali refugees according to UNHCR. Yemen remains the only country in the Arabian Peninsula signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention and a geographic crossroad for migratory and transitory movements from the Horn of Africa and beyond.
International Political, Legal and Humanitarian Efforts
A UN-brokered two-month ceasefire as of April 2022 in Yemen remains broadly holding on. The ceasefire is the biggest step forward in the six-year war and is intended to apply inside and outside the country’s borders. While the Houthis were invited to the peace talks in Saudi Arabia’s capital, they rejected the invitation from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), and said they would instead welcome talks with the Saudi-led coalition at a neutral venue, including in other Gulf states. With unilateral ceasefires declared by both Saudi Arabia and the Houthis, but with no positive response from either side, peace for Yemen appears to be very fragile.
UNHCR leads the Protection, Camp Coordination and Camp Management (CCCM), and Shelter/Non-Food Items clusters as part of the inter-agency humanitarian response to assist those most in need in Yemen. UNHCR also remains the only agency addressing the protection and well-being of refugees and asylum-seekers across the country. UNHCR’s response focuses primarily on protection interventions, shelter support, CCCM services, cash assistance, peaceful coexistence and social cohesion projects, and comprehensive refugee response. Presently, the operation covers most of its 22 governorates and 333 districts.