Global Overview 2011: People internally displaced by conflict and violence - Yemen

Quick facts
Number of IDPsAt least 463,500
Percentage of total populationAt least 1.8%
Start of current displacement situation2004
Peak number of IDPs (Year)463,500 (2011)
New displacementAt least 175,000
Causes of displacementArmed conflict, deliberate policy or practice of arbitrary displacement, generalised violence, human rights violations
Human development index133

As of December 2011, there were at least 463,500 IDPs in Yemen, according to the UN. During the year, the fragmentation of the country continued in the wake of the wider Arab Spring. Yemen's political crisis deepened as the country became ever more volatile and impoverished; from February, a cycle of protests and state repression spread throughout the country. In the resulting political vacuum, fighting escalated between government armed forces and rival tribal or militant groups which led to displacement across the country.

By the end of the year, at least 175,000 people had been newly displaced across northern, central and southern Yemen. In May, fighting between rival factions in the capital Sana'a displaced thousands. In Zinjibar, the capital of Abeyan governorate, clashes between pro-government factions and Islamic militants forced over 90,000 people to flee to the neighbouring governorates of Lahij and Aden. In late 2011 over 7,000 people fled the city of Taiz, Yemen's second largest city, following weeks of heavy fighting. Conflict also caused displacement in Shabwa.

In northern Yemen, large numbers of people remained displaced due to the long-running conflict between the Al-Houthi movement and government armed forces. The conflict broke out in Sa'ada governorate in 2004. From mid-2009 until the ceasefire of February 2010, the most violent and destructive round of the conflict spread to Al-Jawf, Hajjah and Amran governorates and to areas bordering Saudi Arabia. Over 340,000 people were internally displaced, most of whom remained in protracted displacement at the end of 2011.

Intermittent violence continued despite the ceasefire and in April 2011, in the wake of the political crisis in Sana'a, the ceasefire collapsed when Al-Houthi groups took control of all of Sa'ada and the majority of Al-Jawf. Al-Houthi groups continued to fight rival tribal and Salafist groups and military forces in Sa'ada and Amran until late 2011.

Displaced and non-displaced people across the country had to contend with insecurity, the scarcity and rising cost of basic necessities, and a rapid decline in the availability of public services including health care and education. Ongoing fighting, checkpoints and landmines prevented many civilians from fleeing or seeking assistance, and also caused death and injury among those who had fled.

For IDPs and others affected by these conflicts, access to clean water, sanitation, food and essential non-food supplies was also inadequate in 2011. In the south, severe water and food shortages were reported in conflict-affected areas of Abeyan. In northern Yemen, the coping capacities of households in Sa'ada, Amran, Al-Jawf and Sana'a were exhausted as their displacement was prolonged, and IDPs were increasingly forced to compete with host communities for limited resources.

Most IDPs sought refuge among host communities, in rented and overcrowded housing, or in makeshift shelters, many in mosques or schools.

Few of those displaced had returned by the end of the year. In southern and central Yemen, some IDPs in urban areas were able to return soon after being displaced. However, in northern Yemen, only 27,000 registered IDPs returned to their place of origin in 2010 and a quarter of those surveyed had no intention of doing so. Extensive damage to homes and infrastructure, continuing insecurity and violence, the fear of reprisals and the lack of livelihood opportunities and basic services were all standing in their way.

In 2011, humanitarian access continued to be intermittent; however in Sa'ada governorate, UN agencies were able to negotiate wider access for the first time since 2008 after the Al-Houthi movement took control.

The Yemeni government has recognised the situation of displacement and has established mechanisms, including the Executive Unit for IDPs as focal point to coordinate with the humanitarian community and respond to displacement. However, its response has remained limited by the lack of resources and capacity, and the limited access to conflict-affected areas.

The UN has implemented the cluster system since early 2010, and has worked closely with the Executive Unit for IDPs. Several international agencies continued to assist displaced and other conflict-affected communities in 2011, alongside national partners including the Yemeni Red Crescent Society, Al Amal and local relief committees.

In November 2011, the UN launched the 2012 Humanitarian Response Plan for Yemen; it requested 54 per cent more funds than for 2011. Only 64 per cent of the funding requested in the appeal for 2011 had been provided, and the UN continued to appeal for greater international commitment, while calling upon all parties for wider humanitarian access.


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