SANAA, 6 April 2010 – “It is better for us to stay here and keep the ration cards which allow us to get aid. Who will give us food at home if we return?” Sultan Abdullah, a father of five living with his family in Amran city, 50km north of the Yemeni capital Sanaa, told IRIN.
“If we return home, how it will be possible for us to cope after the war destroyed everything in our village?”
Abdullah, who is originally from Ghamr Uzla, Razih District, Saada Governorate, said his family had lost all its livestock (10 sheep and two cows) and their farmland had been left uncultivated after they fled their home in August 2009.
“Livestock and two small plots of land were our main sources of income before we fled,” he said.
Many internally displaced persons (IDPs) like Abdallah fled fighting between the army and Houthi-led rebels in northern Yemen between August 2009 and February 2010 when a ceasefire came into force. They are now living in camps, scattered settlements or with host families, where they get limited relief aid and have access to some basic services.
“Although there are reports of sporadic and limited IDP return to places of origin, mass return does not seem imminent,” according to a UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) 31 March humanitarian update.
Ahmad al-Kohlani, head of a government unit running IDP camps, told IRIN there was a two-way flow of IDPs: Some 5-10 percent of the 30,000 IDPs in the three al-Mazraq camps in Hajjah Governorate “might have returned”, but at the same time many others were coming back to the camps having seen their damaged homes and the lack of services. He said further efforts were needed to rebuild war-damaged infrastructure in Saada Governorate.
A random survey of IDP intentions to return, conducted in February by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in and outside camps in Hajjah and Amran governorates, showed that 61 percent of IDPs interviewed had not yet decided whether or when to return. Four hundred and thirty-nine families were consulted.
A further 16 percent did not plan to return until the ceasefire had been in effect for more than six months, and around half would like to conduct “go-and-see” visits before deciding to return, according to the survey.
Fear of landmines and the chance that fighting could flare up again are reportedly the biggest obstacles to return, in addition to lack of food, shelter and basic services, according to UNHCR and other aid agencies.
The return of IDPs to their original villages may take a long time, Claire Bourgeois, UNHCR representative in Yemen, told reporters at a Sanaa news conference on 1 April.
“The repatriation of IDPs should be voluntary, considering their human rights and dignity. We cannot force them to go home,” she said. “Even after return, necessary assistance needs to be provided to those people in their places of origin.”
Meanwhile, al-Kohlani claimed that after the 11 February ceasefire thousands more displaced families had been discovered beyond the reach of international and local aid agencies.
“This brings the total estimated number of IDPs to 350,000, which is equivalent to nearly 50,000 families,” he said.
“The number of IDPs continues to increase even after the end of hostilities because tens of thousands of civilians had been trapped due to the clashes. They managed to flee after the ceasefire and are now seeking assistance,” al-Kohlani said, and he urged donors to provide more help.
[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]