Violence in Hajjah, Yemen's forgotten province, worsens humanitarian crisis

More than 23,000 families are displaced in the governorate

TOPSHOT - A Yemeni civilian receives food aid for displaced people who fled battles in the Red Sea province of Hodeida and are now living in camps in the northern district of Abs, under control by the Iranian-backed Huthi rebels in Hajjah province, on June 24, 2018.  / AFP / ESSA AHMED
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Violence in the Hajjah Governorate in the last few months has killed dozens of civilians, displaced hundreds and led to the intensification of the humanitarian disaster in Yemen, according to a new report released by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Afairs (OCHA).

Both the Houthis and forces aligned with the Yemeni government have exchanged control of the strategically important province since the civil war broke out. But recent clashes, despite the so-called ceasefire, have forced families to seek refuge in areas relatively safe from the violence.

Hajjah province has become a refuge to hundreds of families fleeing the violence along the Saudi-Yemeni border and from Hodeidah. But clashes in the province, which see several key supply routes cut through its mountainous terrain leading from the Red Sea Coast to Houthi-held Sanaa, has played host to violence spilling over from Hodeidah, the Red Sea port city held by the Houthi rebels.

The Hajoor tribe, a prominent tribe in north Yemen led by Salafi figure Sheikh Yahya Al Hajoori, have taken up the battle against the Houthis in the province – flaring tensions between the Sunni tribe and the Houthi rebels. Clashes between the Houthis and the Hajoor’s trail back to 2011, when clashes between the two tribes in Hajjah caused thousands of families in the province to flee.

Recent violence, the worst in the province since August 2018, has seen at least 30 civilians killed and another 52 injured by artillery shells and airstrikes in the last 30 days alone. Three children and two women were killed in the violence.

This has displaced at least 300 families displaced in the last three weeks to Abs District where they live in difficult conditions, many without proper care despite several UN organisations on the ground.

“Abs District already hosts an estimated 23,000 displaced families, most of whom have been displaced multiple times over the past four years, sometimes more, and are living in dire conditions,” said the OCHA report.

The hostilities in Hajjah intensified in mid-December 2018, with armed confrontations and shelling in Haradh, mainly around the main town and in Abs and Hayran Districts.

Hajjah is among the governorates with the highest severity of needs in Yemen. The findings of the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) released in December indicate that more than a million people, out of a total population of 2.5 million, are in IPC Phase 3 – or living in crisis.

Of the 31 districts in the province, 28 are recognised as being in IPC Phase 4, a state of emergency, with five pockets of populations described by the UN as being catastrophic, or in need of immediate aid.

Fear of being caught in the crossfire between the two sides has barred families from shuttling between districts to receive humanitarian assistance.

“An inter-agency mission is planned for 27 to 29 January, to visit IDPs settlements in Abs district to solidify response co-ordination and engage with international and national NGOs operating in Hajjah Governorate,” a report issued by OCHA.

UN officials and partners working in Abs district, report that new waves of internally displaced refugees are putting a strain on the infrastructure and humanitarian aid.