Refugees |

Yemen's Marib calls for help amid al-Jawf exodus

By Nabil Abdullah al-Tamimi in Aden

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A Yemeni child stands outside a tent at a makeshift camp for internally displaced persons after many were forced to flee their homes due to the ongoing fighting in the Nehm region, west of Marib city, in this file photo from May 8th, 2016. [Abdullah al-Qadry/AFP]

Since the Iran-backed Houthis (Ansarallah) overran the al-Jawf provincial capital of al-Hazm on March 1st, around 25,000 residents of the city and surrounding area have fled, according to local media and international agency reports.

In light of the burgeoning displacement crisis, Minister of Local Administration Abdel Raqib Fatah, who is heading a government team to address the situation, arrived in Marib with the team on March 3rd to meet with local authority leaders.

During a March 4th meeting, Fatah stressed the importance of "rising to the relief and humanitarian challenge in Marib, which requires concerted efforts by the local authority, the government and the Saudi-led Arab coalition".

Yemeni President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi sent the team to Marib with the aim of reinforcing the government's efforts to improve relief efforts to assist those displaced from al-Jawf.

According to the government-run Executive Unit for Internally Displaced Persons in Marib, about 25,000 displaced residents arrived in Marib from al-Jawf after the Houthi militias took control of al-Hazm.

Tens of thousands of IDPs face "a tragic situation after being forced by the military escalation in al-Jawf province to flee to adjacent Marib province", the unit said in a statement.

It warned that local organisations and the local authority in Marib do not have the capacity to handle displacement on this scale, noting that it has launched an appeal to international organisations "to act urgently and provide relief".

Shortage of food, shelter

"There is a great need for food, medicine, shelter and water for the IDPs who arrived in Marib," executive unit director Seif Muthanna told Al-Mashareq.

The situation is "tragic, both in the existing camps and those being built to accommodate the newly arrived IDPs", he said. "Some of the displaced families are still staying out in the desert and lack the most basic living requirements."

"Some of the IDPs from al-Hazm are stranded in the desert areas between Marib and al-Jawf, and they are fearful that the fighting will spread to the areas to which they have been displaced," Muthanna said.

"We cannot meet their essential needs," he said, calling for international help.

The UN has activated a Rapid Response Mechanism to respond to and register new IDPs in Marib.

Meanwhile, among other relief efforts, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) said it had prepared 7,000 aid packages for distribution to the displaced population containing food and personal care and hygiene products.

Residents of al-Hazm fled

"Most residents of the city of al-Hazm fled the Houthi attacks," said Waleed Ghaleb, deputy director of the Human Rights Office in al-Jawf province.

"The IDPs fled out of fear of the Houthis' brutality or being used as human shields, as the militia is doing with residents who remain in al-Hazm," he told Al-Mashareq.

"Those who were not able to escape before the militia arrived in the city are stuck," he said.

They are being forced to remain in the city so they can be used as bargaining chips if Yemeni forces move in to try and retake it, Ghaleb added.

Some of the displaced families "used desert roads to reach Marib, and some of them got lost", he said, reporting that 18 families had been robbed en route.

Some of the displaced families took refuge in areas of al-Jawf controlled by the Yemeni government, he said, while others went to stay with relatives in the vicinity of Marib city.

But all the displaced families are suffering, he noted, "as some of the families that reached Marib are staying out in the desert, while others found space in existing IDP camps, such as al-Meel".

Need for quick response

The population was in a difficult situation before their displacement, and "their situation worsened after they left their homes and livelihoods out of fear of being killed", economist Abdul Aziz Thabet told Al-Mashareq.

According to the Marib governor, Thabet said, aid will be provided to the IDPs as available resources allow.

But in truth, the local government "can only provide the land for the camps" and does not have the capacity to provide for the IDPs' needs as their number continues to rise, he said, calling for federal government and UN help.

The people sheltering in the existing camps are facing "a difficult situation, and the arrival of new IDPs will exacerbate the suffering", Thabet said.

He noted that the IDPs chose displacement over remaining under Houthi control, adding that "this necessitates an expeditious response to their needs".

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