Human Rights

Aid groups plead for safe passage for Yemen civilians



Yemenis displaced from the port city of al-Hodeidah receive humanitarian aid donated by the World Food Programme in the northern province of Hajjah on September 25th. [Essa Ahmed/AFP] 

International aid groups on Wednesday (November 7th) appealed for safe passage for civilians in Yemen, as pro-government forces and the Iran-backed Houthis (Ansarallah) battle for one of Yemen's most densely populated cities.

Humanitarian workers called for the urgent protection of residents in the Red Sea port city of al-Hodeidah, as clashes approach civilian hospitals.

Save the Children reported one of its facilities had been hit, warning that warring parties were "now waging a battle within the city area", which is home to around 600,000 people.

"The lives of hundreds of thousands of people, roughly half of them children, are in danger," said Save the Children, adding that there were temporary roadblocks preventing residents from leaving or entering al-Hodeidah.

One of the biggest hospitals in al-Hodeidah, Al-Thawra, is now only "metres away from an active frontline", International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) spokeswoman Mirella Hodeib said Wednesday.

Situation 'likely to become worse'

"We are talking about dying children who are currently at the hospital," UNICEF spokeswoman Juliette Touma said. "What we are fearful about is that the escalation of violence is highly likely to jeopardise humanitarian efforts."

"We need to be able to continue to deliver humanitarian assistance, because if we are not, the dire humanitarian situation in Yemen is likely to become even worse," she said.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) on Wednesday announced it had suspended its work in Daleh province, east of al-Hodeidah province.

"There have been multiple security incidents directly targeting patients, staff and MSF-supported medical facilities in the area," said Ton Berg, the group's head of mission in Yemen.

"We are left with no choice but to close all activities in Daleh."

Save the Children said one of its facilities in al-Hodeidah had been damaged, without identifying the party responsible.

"A Save the Children-supported health facility in the Yemeni port city of al-Hodeidah came under attack this morning, damaging one of the pharmacies that supplies life-saving medicines," the aid group said in a Wednesday statement.

"Shelling has also hit residential areas."

'Deliberate militarisation of hospitals'

Amnesty International on Thursday accused the Houthis of "deliberate militarisation of hospitals" in al-Hodeidah, and called on warring parties to protect civilians.

The human rights group said the Houthis had recently stationed fighters on the roof of a hospital in the city's May 22 district, calling the action a "stomach-churning development".

It said the move risked "devastating consequences" for the hospital's staff.

"The presence of Houthi fighters on the hospital's roof violates international humanitarian law, but this violation does not make the hospital and the patients and medical staff lawful targets," said Samah Hadid, Amnesty's Middle East campaigns director Samah Hadid said.

Amnesty warned that civilians in al-Hodeidah will "pay a terrible price" unless the warring parties act immediately to protect them from the fighting.

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