ICRC visits conflict-related detainees in Aden for first time in three years

The visits are the first of their kind since the war broke out in Yemen in 2015

epa06154797 Yemeni soldiers loyal to ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh stand guard at a square ahead of the 35th anniversary celebrations for the formation of Saleh's party of General People's Congress, in Sana’a, Yemen, 21 August 2017. According to reports, tensions rose within the Houthi-Saleh alliance after the Houthi rebels accused ex-president Saleh and his party, General People’s Congress, (GPC) of following policies that support the Saudi-led military coalition fighting the Houthi rebels for more than two years. Saleh entered into an alliance with the Houthis in 2014 when they seized the capital Sana’a from Yemen’s Saudi-backed government of president Abdu-Rabbo Mansour Hadi.  EPA/YAHYA ARHAB

The International Committee of the Red Cross finished on Sunday a first round of visits to 279 people detained at a major facility in Yemen’s main southern city of Aden.

"We are encouraged by the visits in Aden, the first of their kind there in nearly three years of hostilities," said ICRC president Peter Maurer in a statement.

“They add to the positive dynamic generated by similar visits to conflict-related detainees that have been ongoing in Sanaa since November 2017.”

The statement said that the ICRC has had hundreds of families in Yemen and outside the country approach them over the years to ask about the fate of a loved one.

Some did not know if missing relatives were dead or alive, it added.

"Is my son alive? The answer to this simple question, the ability for a family to know the fate of a missing relative, contributes to the building of mutual trust among Yemeni communities," said the ICRC's head of delegation in Yemen, Alexandre Faite.

"As positive as these visits in Aden and Sanaa are, more needs to be done. We encourage all sides in Yemen to grant access to all those detained in relation with the ongoing conflict.

“Visits to detainees are a humanitarian imperative from which all sides can only benefit.”

Last year, the ICRC visited 11,000 detainees in Yemen.


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Meanwhile, the United States has laid off 360 local staff in Yemen three years after closing its embassy as the civil war spread in the country.

Ambassador Matthew Tueller wrote to workers saying new US State Department regulations about suspended embassies meant he could no longer keep them on, in the letter dated February 6.

A State Department official confirmed the layoffs, saying: "We are extremely grateful for the service of each and every one of these individuals and hope to work with them at some point in the future when we can safely resume operations in Yemen."

The US ambassador has been working out of the Saudi Red Sea city of Jeddah.

Mr Tueller said the workers would get full severance payments and encouraged them to re-apply for jobs when the embassy reopened.

A Saudi-led coalition intervened in the war in March 2015 in a bid to restore Yemeni president Abdrabu Mansur Hadi's government to power, but the Iran-backed Houthi rebels still control the capital, Sanaa, and large areas of northern Yemen.

The US is supporting the coalition by providing intelligence and weapons, and fighting Al Qaeda militants in the south, mostly with drone strikes and sometimes commando raids.

The United Nations said in 2016 that the war had killed an estimated 10,000 people, displaced more than two million and pushed the country to the verge of famine. No new casualty figures have been released since.