16 November 2012 The United Nations refugee agency today announced that it is seeing growing numbers of internally displaced people returning to their homes in southern Yemen – the first major fall in displacement there in 18 months.
“Over the past four months, and working with the Yemeni authorities, we have helped more than 80,000 people go home, and further returns are on-going. This is the first significant displacement decline since May 2011 when fighting between government troops and militants erupted in the south of Yemen,” a spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Adrian Edwards, told a news briefing in Geneva.
“The decline in displacement follows the re-establishing of government authority in the southern province of Abyan in July,” he added.
According to UNHCR, initially, returns were slow due to the widespread presence of landmines and unexploded ordinance, as well as extensive damage to infrastructure in several areas. In many cases, people also wanted to see more evidence of improvements in the security situation.
“However, through de-mining efforts on the part of the Yemeni Government and other improvements in the security situation, more families are now making the decision to return,” Mr. Edwards said.
The fall in the number of people displaced comes as Yemen undergoes a democratic transition, under the leadership of President Abdrabuh Mansour Hadi Mansour, who came to power in an election in February. This followed the agreement signed by warring factions in November 2011 on a transitional settlement in the wake of widespread protests and violence, and the resignation of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Initial preparations have begun for the country to have a national dialogue conference, the outcome of which will feed into a constitution-making process that is to conclude in late 2013, enabling general elections to take place in February 2014.
UNHCR noted that many of the returns have been from the port city of Aden, where of the 25,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) who were sheltering in schools and other public buildings there, some 23,500 have now returned to Abyan – this has allowed normal classroom teaching to resume, although schools still need repair work after having served as IDP collective sites for over a year.
The 1,500 IDPs still living in Aden schools will be relocated into eight buildings. UNHCR, with the agreement of the Government of Yemen, is rehabilitating these eight buildings to serve as temporary accommodation.
The Government has been covering transportation costs for people returning to Abyan, equivalent to around $70 per family. Security personnel are manning checkpoints along the route to ensure safe passage, and, in Abyan itself, UNHCR and other humanitarian agencies are providing further support.
“As the lead international agency responding to IDP and returnee needs for shelter we have distributed shelter repair kits to some 32,000 persons, and non-food items packages to 33,000 persons,” Mr. Edwards said. “These packages include mattresses, blankets, kitchen sets, plastic sheeting and tools.”
He added that the agency plans to help 180,000 persons in Abyan with shelter and non-food relief kits, with current challenges including widespread damage to property and infrastructure, a still fragile security situation, and patchiness in provision of public services.
“Continuing international support and stable security will be essential for returns to become sustainable, and particularly if internal displacement in southern Yemen is to be brought to an end during 2013,” Mr. Edwards said.
In northern Yemen, more than 300,000 people are still displaced from a conflict that has been running on and off since 2004 between Yemeni Government forces and the so-called Al-Houthi group.
Insecurity continues to hinder returns there, while tribal clashes earlier in 2012 generated over 6,000 new IDPs in the northern governorates, according to UNHCR, which also noted that despite the challenges it faces, Yemen remains one of the most generous refugee hosting countries with over 232,000 refugees, mainly Somalis.
While 2011 saw a record new influx of 103,000 refugees and migrants, so far in 2012 there have been over 90,500 new arrivals, mainly Ethiopians, the refugee agency added.
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