Human Rights |

First UN 'mercy flight' leaves Houthi-held Sanaa



A Yemeni child walks to board a UN aircraft at Sanaa International Airport on February 3rd while being evacuated to the Jordanian capital Amman to receive medical treatment there. [Mohammed Huwais/AFP]

Yemeni children in critical need of medical care were evacuated Monday (February 3rd) from Sanaa, a city under the control of the Iran-backed Houthis (Ansarallah), in what the UN hopes will be the first of more mercy flights.

Seven young patients and their relatives flew out of Sanaa airport, which has been closed to commercial flights since 2016, aboard a UN-marked plane bound for Amman.

"This is the first of what we hope will be a number of flights in the medical air bridge," UN Resident Co-ordinator for Yemen Lise Grande said, adding that more patients and their families would travel to Jordan and Egypt in coming days.


Yemeni children wait with their guardians at Sanaa International Airport on February 3rd for evacuation aboard a UN aircraft bound for the Jordanian capital Amman to receive medical treatment there. [Mohammed Huwais/AFP]

"It is crucially important that this first flight has gone," she said of the evacuation programme which took months to negotiate. "All of us feel today that this is a major breakthrough and an indication of hope out of Yemen."

In November, the Arab coalition -- which controls Yemen's airspace -- said patients needing medical care would be allowed to fly out of Sanaa.

The move was among confidence-building measures aimed at ending the war.

Further flights scheduled

Grande said the youngsters on the plane were suffering from serious conditions including cancer and kidney failure.

"These are heartbreaking cases," she said.

A World Health Organisation spokeswoman said three more flights have been scheduled for February 4th, 5th and 7th, bound for Amman and Cairo.

Patients awaiting evacuation include "women and children who suffer from conditions such as aggressive forms of cancer and brain tumours, or who need organ transplants and reconstructive surgeries", the WHO said.

The Norwegian Refugee Council welcomed the start of the humanitarian airlift.

"We hope that these medical flights will save the lives of other Yemenis. Many more are still waiting to get the healthcare they need," said NRC country director for Yemen Mohamed Abdi.

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