DUBAI: Fighting around Yemen’s port of Mokha has forced some 45,000 people from their homes, a UN official said Wednesday, with many facing continued uncertainty and the threat of further displacement.
Shabia Mantoo, the Yemen spokeswoman for refugee agency UNHCR, told AFP that data compiled by her the agency and the UN Migration Agency (IOM) showed 45,000 people had been displaced in the last few weeks from Mokha and the nearby town of Dhubab.
Fighting has intensified in recent weeks in the southwest of Yemen, where forces loyal to President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi are battling to retake large parts of the country seized by Iran-backed Shiite Houthi rebels.
Loyalist troops took Mokha on February 10 and announced they aimed to push north and take the country’s main Red Sea port of Hodeida next.
Mantoo said many of those fleeing the fighting around Mokha made their way north to Ibb district and to Hodeida province.
“Eight thousand people have been displaced from Mokha and Dhubab to Hodeida alone, many of them with literally nothing but the clothes on their backs,” Mantoo said.
Two major concerns now are how to maintain access to the area and where the displaced will go if the fighting reaches Hodeida.
“The whole country is suffering from multiple displacement,” Mantoo said. “People move from one place to another, because eventually it gets just as bad.”
The UN estimates three million people have been displaced across Yemen.
The Houthi insurgents launched a deadly counter-offensive after losing control of Mokha last month but were overpowered as government troops consolidated their grip on the area, inching a few kilometers north and east.
The Houthis, allied with forces loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, continue to control most of Yemen’s 450 kilometer (280 mile) Red Sea coast, the capital Sanaa and much of the northern highlands.
The new figure on internally displaced persons marks a sharp rise from UNHCR data released on February 10, which reported 34,000 people displaced in the fighting since January around Mokha and Dhubab, located in the southwestern Taiz governorate.
UN mediation efforts and seven cease-fire accords have failed to end the conflict, which has left more than 7,500 dead and 40,000 people wounded.
UN humanitarian aid chief Stephen O’Brien on Monday warned the impoverished country now also faces a “serious risk of famine.”
Yemen, the only country in the Arabian Peninsula which is signatory to the Refugee Convention, is also home to 278,000 refugees from nearby countries including Somalia and Ethiopia, according to the UNHCR.
As of February 1, the agency had received just over $700,000 of the nearly $100 million needed for its operational response to the crisis this year.