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UN agency approves $5 million internal loan to sustain Yemen aid effort

23 February 2010 – The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has approved a nearly $5 million internal loan to bridge an acute funding gap so that it can continue providing life-saving assistance to hundreds of thousands of people uprooted by clashes between Government forces and rebels in northern Yemen.

“This step is an alternative to scaling down or suspending UNHCR’s protection and assistance programmes, which would have an adverse and irreversible impact on a civilian population forcibly displaced by seven months of conflict between the Government and Al Houthi rebel movement,” agency spokesperson Andrej Mahecic told reporter today in Geneva.

Some 250,000 civilians have been uprooted since clashes erupted in Yemen in 2004.

Mr. Mahecic noted donor response to UNHCR’s part of the 2010 UN Consolidated Appeal for the country has been “weak,” with the agency having received less than 10 per cent of the $40 million it has asked for.

He said the funds are urgently needed to expand the already overcrowded camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) at Al Mazrak and to build new ones in northern Yemen. They are also needed to provide shelter materials, especially tents and plastic sheeting, and basic relief items, including blankets, mattresses and hygiene kits.

A ceasefire was announced on 11 February, a move welcomed by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and others.

UNHCR reported today that people sheltering in the camps at Al Mazrak are hopeful but cautious about the ceasefire, which has held so far. So far, civilians returns to Sa’ada province have been limited to individual family members assessing the situation for their entire households.

Initial reports, thought sketchy, indicate that some roads are blocked and there are areas still littered with landmines and unexploded ordnance, making moving through parts of Sa’ada province difficult.

“A report of one casualty of an IDP due to a mine explosion has further strengthened fears among IDPs regarding the safety of return,” said Mr. Mahecic, stressing the need to remove mines and unexploded ordnance and resume basic services before any return of civilians to their homes on a large scale can take place.

Yemen is one of the poorest countries in its region and also faces a periodic influx of refugees from across the seas in the Horn of Africa.

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