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Slow pace of returns to northern Yemen, two months after ceasefire - UN

23 April 2010 – More than two months after a ceasefire was struck and one month after the official end to hostilities in northern Yemen, locals have been cautious and slow in returning to the area due to continuing security concerns, the United Nations refugee agency reported today.

Nearly 300,000 people have been uprooted from their homes in the region by fighting between Government forces and rebels in recent years.

Some 7,000 uprooted civilians sheltering in camps at Al Mazraq in Hajjah governorate have visited their homes in the north to assess damage to their farms and property, but the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that only one quarter have decided to stay in their hometowns and villages.

“Most remain displaced amid continuing concerns about insecurity, ongoing skirmishes, landmines, lack of basic services and lack of shelter, as many homes were either destroyed or partially damaged,” agency spokesperson Melissa Fleming told journalists in Geneva.

Internally displaced persons (IDPs) have also told UNHCR that they are unsure whether the peace will last.

Their fears of landmines and unexploded ordnance in their home villages are being reinforced by frequent reports of deadly incidents, Ms. Fleming noted. This month alone, at least two children died and nine children and adults were injured.

“In addition to the loss of lives, these incidents are adversely affecting the safety of returns and school attendance in areas which were affected by the conflict,” she said, adding that campaigns to raise awareness about are taking place in all areas where IDPs are sheltering to minimize casualties.

Most of those displaced by clashes have been living in host communities with friends, relatives or neighbours, but the situation for many in Hajjah and Amran governorates is becoming untenable as resources are becoming depleted.

Those without identification documents cannot register with authorities in Hajjah, preventing them from receiving humanitarian assistance, forcing them to sell their belongings, including their remaining cattle.

“We fear that this group is becoming increasingly vulnerable and a potential target for abuse or exploitation,” Ms. Fleming said.

UNHCR is working with the Yemeni Government to ensure their registration as IDPs and enhance their access to relief.

The agency also warned today about the funding gap it faces for its operation in Yemen. Between August and December last year, it reached 100,000 displaced people, while this year it has helped 50,000 so far and has enough resources to assist an additional 30,000 by June.

Just over one third of the nearly $40 million it needs for 2010 has been received. “Unless new funding is provided urgently, UNHCR will not be able to provide protection, shelter and humanitarian assistance to some 170,000 refugees and 280,000 IDPs in Yemen,” its spokesperson said.

Earlier this month, a UN human rights expert cautioned that without an urgent injection of funds, IDPs in Yemen are in danger of “a grave humanitarian crisis.”

Walter Kälin, the Secretary-General’s Representative on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons, wrapped up a week-long visit to Yemen with a call for all sides to the conflict in the country’s north to observe and implement a ceasefire so that civilians in the region can enjoy a measure of peace.

Mr. Kälin said in a statement at the end of his trip that the international humanitarian response over the past year and ongoing cooperation between the Yemeni Government and the UN had averted a disaster.

“These achievements are now threatened by a dramatic shortfall of funding,” he said, noting that some aid agencies have announced they will have to close their operations within the next few months without new funds.

“The consequences of such a withdrawal would be severe. IDPs by the very nature of their displacement, and in particular those who have suffered multiple displacements, have no more capacity to cope with their situation.”

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